PSC chairman seeks vote on proposal

Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Public Service Commission Chairman Foster Campbell speaks Monday during the weekly Baton Rouge Press Club luncheon.
Advocate staff photo by PATRICK DENNIS -- Public Service Commission Chairman Foster Campbell speaks Monday during the weekly Baton Rouge Press Club luncheon.

Louisiana Public Service Commission Chairman Foster Campbell on Monday challenged fellow regulator Lambert Boissiere III, whose district includes parts of Baton Rouge, to vote in favor of lowering costs for prisoners who phone home.

“We’re depending on Lambert Boissiere, which troubles me,” Campbell told the Press Club of Baton Rouge. “He really ought to be leading the charge and he really can’t seem to make up his mind.”

Among the five elected members of the PSC, Boissiere, of New Orleans, abstained from a 2-2 vote in November on the issue, thereby defeating the proposed order to simplify the prison pricing system, reduce commissions on phone calls, eliminate some fees and reduce rates. After defeating the proposal, the PSC members voted to revisit the issue in the future and ordered their staff to work with the sheriffs who oppose the rate reduction recommendation.

Campbell said he asked for another vote on Wednesday, the last scheduled monthly meeting for the state regulators who oversee the rates charged by privately owned utility and telecommunications companies.

Campbell proposes that the PSC reduce commissions by 25 percent and set a flat rate for all calls of $1.69 plus five cents a minute.

The average cost of all calls from jail in Louisiana is about $3 for a 10-minute call, Campbell said. That is 30 cents a minute, compared with 2 cents outside the prison.

Reducing the costs by 25 percent will bring the average to roughly $2.29 for a 10-minute call, he said.

These moves will provide relief to the families of Louisiana’s 40,000 inmates in 170 state and local jails, Campbell said, adding that the families have to pay for the calls.

Representatives for the state’s sheriffs and corrections officials have countered that phone calls from prisons require additional surveillance.

Boissiere did not respond to a request for comment Monday. But minutes after the vote in November, Boissiere said he abstained from voting because he knew the issue would be revisited after the sheriffs had more time to review the proposal.

Boissiere’s 3rd PSC District stretches along the Mississippi River from New Orleans to north Baton Rouge. He represents more people in East Baton Rouge Parish than the newly elected PSC Commissioner Scott Angelle, of Breaux Bridge, will starting in January.

“If Mr. Boissiere doesn’t want to represent his district, he can kill it Wednesday,” said Campbell, by postponing the vote again.

PSC Commissioner Jimmy Field, of Baton Rouge, backed the proposed order, speaking to religious groups, trying to rally their support. Field retires Dec. 31. He will be replaced by Angelle, who had been a member of Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Cabinet.

“The sheriffs want to postpone because Mr. Field won’t be there in January,” Campbell said. “I don’t want to wait until Mr. Angelle comes on board.”

Campbell said he feared that Angelle, who won election to the PSC in November, may find himself influenced by the politically active sheriffs and their professional associations.

Angelle said in an interview later in the day that he was still studying the issue and had not made up his mind.

“I’ve looked at a lot of information and I’m awaiting more information,” Angelle said. “I haven’t listened to any public debate on this issue.”

Campbell said the proposal has been endorsed by National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, American Correctional Association, Louisiana Interchurch Conference Committee on Criminal Justice and many pastors from traditional and evangelical religious dominations.