Legislation reauthorizing the Public Utilities Commission is mostly innocuous, making a variety of adjustments and consolidations. Unfortunately, it also contains a small provision giving the agency new powers to short-circuit the judiciary and impede the marketplace. It is power being given to address a problem that doesn’t exist.

HB1600 is slated to be considered by the Texas House on Wednesday.

Broadly speaking, today if the PUC believes an electric power company is behaving badly, the agency can go to a judge and present a few facts to get a temporary restraining order—this can take place in as little as a couple of hours.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation has a comprehensive review of the problems presented by this change.

The new power granted in HB 1600 would not only let the agency issue it’s own cease and desist authority without judicial review, it would be allowed to do so without notifying the company in advance—if it is not practicable—so that they could plead their case. It is claimed that this authority is needed to handle emergency situations, but as already noted the PUC can already seek a temporary restraining order very quickly.

Let’s be clear: the PUC’s current power has only been used once since 2007, so it is not like the marketplace is filled with actions requiring emergency action!

Instead, bureaucrats are looking for more power under the guise of their unique ability to necessarily protect the people. This is overreach at its worst.

Government agencies simply shouldn’t be allowed to shut down businesses without the possibility for serious judicial review.

Proponents say the power is meant to be used only in life-threatening situations, yet no evidence exists showing such problems have existed in a circumstance not handled more appropriately through the courts or the PUC’s current administrative authority—which includes the threat of being able to disgorge all revenues received under the suspect activity!

Chilling competition and unchecked intrusions on the marketplace by government agencies — regardless of the intentions — should be carefully checked. The 4th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is there for a reason.

Government entities will always claim expediency to accomplish good when taking more and more unreviewed power to themselves. As William Pitt once observed, “Necessity is the plea of every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”

We will positively rate on the Fiscal Responsibility Index any amendments offered eliminating this abusive agency overreach. If an amendment is not offered, TFR will recommend that lawmakers vote the legislation down.

Michael Quinn Sullivan

Michael Quinn Sullivan is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. He is a native Texan, a graduate of Texas A&M, and an Eagle Scout. Previously, he has worked as a newspaper reporter, magazine contributor, Capitol Hill staffer, and think tank vice president. Michael and his wife have three adult children, a son-in-law, and a dog. Michael is the author of three books, including "Reflections on Life and Liberty."


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