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Michigan lawmaker proposes lessening penalty for reconnecting shut-off water service

steve carmody
Michigan Radio

A state lawmaker wants to reduce the penalty for reconnecting a shut-off water linefrom a five-year felony to a civil infraction.   

Rep. Alex Garza (D-Taylor) says criminally charging people down on their luckwill only make it harder for them to get back on their feet.

Garza admits it’s rare that a person is charged with a felony for trying to reconnect a water line when service has been cut off for unpaid bills.

“We know that for sure that one thing is that the felony charge does not match the crime,” says Garza.

If an individual reconnects the same water service for a third time, they would face a misdemeanor under Garza’s bill.  The Taylor Democrat insists he wants people to pay their water bill. 

“Of course we don’t want to encourage anybody to turn their water back on,” says Garza, “that not’s something we want to promote.”

Garza’s bill is part of a broader package of legislation state House Democrats have introduced to improve access to clean, affordable drinking water:

  • Amend the social welfare act to create a residential water affordability program within the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to ensure bills are based on household income. 
  • Increase transparency by requiring water providers submit an annual report to DHHS regarding water rates and how they were determined, along with information about shut offs during the previous year.
  • Allow some customers who have not received a water bill by ten days after the end of the billing period to no longer be held responsible for paying that bill if they contacted the department in writing twice and did not receive a response within 30 days
  • Institute water shut-off protections for seniors, families with minor children and those who are disabled, and provide for clearer notices and a process to avoid shut-offs when possible, in addition to creating a low-income water assistance fund.
  • Grant the Michigan Public Service Commission the power and jurisdiction to regulate rates, fares, fees and charges of any water or sewer authority in the state. 

The seven bill package faces an uncertain future in the Republican-controlled state legislature.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.
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