KIYC: Bill would prevent utility from turning off power to the sick

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A New Jersey state senator is proposing legislation to protect people with serious medical conditions from being disconnected by utility companies for nonpayment. 

The bill, from state Sen. Gerald Cardinale (R – Cresskill), comes five months after a Kane In Your Corner investigation into alleged abusive utility company tactics, and two months after an oxygen-dependent Newark woman died after her electricity was cut off.

Cardinale’s legislation would require utility companies to contact customers and ascertain whether a member of the household might suffer serious health consequences if power is disconnected. Customers could extend the protection indefinitely by having doctors write letters every six months. Currently, medical emergencies only give customers a 60-day exemption from payment.

RELATED: BPU investigates after woman’s death when PSE&G cut power
RELATED: BPU says it's powerless to help family fighting JCP&L
MORE: Inside the Investigation - Abuse of Power

“It’s about treating our fellow human beings with some thoughtful compassion,” Cardinale says. “Will some people beat the system? Yes, some people will beat the system, but that’s a very small price to pay to keep somebody alive.”

Cardinale says his bill was in response to the death of Linda Daniels of Newark in July. Her utility company, PSE&G, disconnected her power over an unpaid bill, leaving her unable to power her oxygen concentrator. 

In April, a Kane In Your Corner investigation into utility company tactics featured Angela O’Neil of Keansburg. O’Neil was trying to care for her chronically ill mother, who depended on oxygen and nebulizer treatments, but her utility provider, JCP&L, kept shutting off her power because of a dispute over her late father’s bill.

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