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Columbia legislators distance themselves from Jacob's water amendment

February 27, 2003
By: Valerie C. Green
State Capital Bureau
Links: SB 246 SB 339

JEFFERSON CITY - Local legislators are taking a hands-off approach to a report that Sen. Ken Jacob, D-Columbia, is pushing legislation for personal reasons.

Jacob pushed a provision through the Senate restricting water service cutoffs in the Boone County area after his own service was disconnected for nonpayment.

Columbia's three House members said they have not talked to Jacob about the issue and would not comment on his motives.

Jacob's provision prohibits the water company from shutting off service without notification through certified mail. Only the counties in Jacob's district -- Boone, Howard and Randolph -- are included in the measure.

The issue became a personal problem for Jacob when the water to his home was shut off on Nov. 5, 2002, because a $19.61 bill was overdue, the Columbia Daily Tribune reported earlier this week. The service was restored the same day after Jacob's wife paid the $50 reconnection fee and the overdue amount.

According to the Tribune report, Jacob became hostile and used profane language with water district staff when he found out about the service shutoff.

"If you went to bed at 12:30 at night with your water working and woke up the next morning at 8 to go to work and had no water, you would be hostile too," Jacob told The Missourian.

Jacob defended his actions.

"I don't care what people make of my motivation," he said. "Everything I sponsor has a personal motivation - to make the world a better place."

Jacob said he has received several complaints about water services and shutoffs from his constituents, and that those complaints were the only motivation for the amendment.

"This is a consumer protection issue," Jacob said. "I am trying to keep large utility monopolies from taking advantage of the individual customer and continuing their abusive practices."

Democratic Reps. Chuck Graham, Vicky Riback Wilson and Jeff Harris, all of Columbia, said they have not heard complaints from their constituents.

The amendment was added to a bill sponsored by Sen. Sarah Steelman, R-Rolla, that changes staffing procedures for the Public Service Commission. No one voted against the amendment on the Senate floor.

"I would have preferred to have a clean bill without amendments," Steelman said. "I did not have any warning that the senator was going to add this onto my bill."

Jacob is also sponsoring a separate bill to have the same effect as his amendment, except that it would affect every water district of the state. The measure only allows water companies to cut off service if the overdue amount is greater than $100 and the company gives a 90-day warning by certified mail. The water company must also notify the customer of the date of the cutoff, the cost of reconnection and what steps can be taken to avoid stopping service.

This is the first time Jacob has proposed this type of restriction on water utilities.

"The people that are claiming I am doing this for personal reasons are using an 'attack the messenger' strategy to derail it instead of looking at the public policy issue to get rid of an evil that should not occur," Jacob said. "I've engaged in that strategy with things I didn't like and I've come to expect it."

Jacob said he is used to "having spears thrown" at him and that he is tough enough to take it.

Sen. Steve Stoll, D-Festus, said politics should not be done on a personal level.

"Elected officials should avoid passing bills that are personal in nature," Stoll said. "It's embarrassing."

Stoll said he would not support Jacob's bill that affects the whole state, because the municipalities of his district are happy with the current system.

"It hasn't been a controversy that my water districts have come to the state for a remedy," Stoll said.

Rep. Rex Rector, R-Harrisonville, who is handling Steelman's bill in the House, said personal motivations often are the reason for sponsoring legislation.

"It is an appropriate use of power," Rector said. "Whether Senator Jacob is being vindictive or helpful to the public is not for me to say, but everyone internalizes how laws will affect them personally as well as the public. I am a member of the public I'm representing."

Rector said he does not plan to add Jacob's amendment to the House version of the bill and Graham, Wilson and Harris said they have not considered offering it. Jacob said he would not ask any one to attach it to the House bill.