The Louisiana Public Service Commission today suspended fines and fees imposed on providers of telephone services in parish jails around the state while the Commission reviews the rules and rates.
Last year, the Commission imposed caps on what fees and rates prison and jail telephone service providers may charge. Several companies appealed penalties that were imposed, saying they were penalized retroactively and that LPSC staff had approved their surcharges on inmate users.
Moved by Commissioner Lambert Boissiere and seconded by Commission Chairman Eric Skrmetta, the motion to suspend those penalties on those companies pending a review, passed 3-2. Commissioners Clyde Holloway and Foster Campbell voted against it.
“The system isn’t right and it needs to be corrected,” Skrmetta said. “We have to move towards a unified contract system. But these companies, by Commissioner Boissiere’s motion, are not being given an excuse. If it’s shown these companies owe these fees, they’re going to have to pay them through rebate or credit. They (the fees) are only legal if they can prove they had the requisite response from staff to show they were approved. We are not going to allow companies to retain fees that are not legal, but we’ll deal with that after staff brings us a recommendation.”
Companies that provide phone service in prison facilities had been charging very high rates and fees, with a portion of rates paid to local sheriffs to fund jail operations. Campbell took on the issue last Fall and convinced a majority of commissioners to reduce the cap on those rates and fees. Companies have said the loss of revenue will require them to lay off employees, particularly since they had only 30 days to adapt.
“Although this policy has a significant economic impact on both service providers and local sheriffs, I agree the issue needs to be addressed fairly and even-handedly,” Skrmetta said after the meeting. “That notwithstanding, however, these companies claiming they had LPSC staff authorization should have those claims reviewed before they are required to pay penalties.”