Group Supports Consumers on Utility Rates
Even some lawmakers admit special interests run the Missouri General Assembly.
"There really hasn't been a consumer voice in the legislature that has been strong and statewide for decades," said Sen. Pat Dougherty, D-St. Louis.
The Consumer Council of Missouri wants to tackle insurance reform, utility rates and banking, all issues the group says are too complicated for the average consumer. The group says most states have an advocacy group to represent utiltity consumers, but Missouri did not.
"So, this has really been a void for many years," said John Coffman, the group's interim president.
Until Gov. Blunt fired him last year, Coffman was the state's public counsel, representing utility customers in rate cases. He thinks Blunt fired him for speaking out against utility legislation.
Problems arose because of Senate Bill 179, which Democrats say let utility companies add unfair charges and allowed monopoly-like corporate behavior.
"There was not very much debate," noted Coffman. "There was not much discussion about it. And only one or two of the surcharges in this legislation was actually analyzed. And I think you're seeing some buyers' remorse."
Aside from giving a voice to consumers in the legislature, the group hopes to educate Missourians about all laws affecting them.
"The everyday consumer, the person who is retired or who is a single mom trying to raise a family, these issues really impact people," added Sen. Dougherty. "And these people don't have a lobbyists in Jefferson City."
Utility advocacy groups were absent from the state's lawmaking process for many years, but the Consumer Council of Missouri says it plans to be relevant for years to come.