In early July what had been championed as the municipal utility privacy bill became law. The bill clarifies that certain utility customer information is not considered a record under Wisconsin’s open records laws and thus should not be released without customer permission unless one of the specific exemptions is met. With the enactment of this law customers of municipal utilities have the same privacy expectations as the customers of investor owned utilities within Wisconsin.
As outlined in Act 25, any information that identifies a customer by usage or account status (i.e. past due status) is not a public record and can only be released with the customer’s permission or to the parties specifically identified within section 196.137(2)(a)-(d). This does allow the information to be provided to the owner of a rental property whose tenant has a delinquent account.
In working to ensure compliance with the new law, municipal utilities should review:
- Information on significant or top ten customers included in rate filings, official statements, continuing disclosure requirements, or the statistical section of a CAFR
- Responses to requests for information from title companies, prospective customers or local organizations
- Presentation of past due or delinquent account information to the governing body for approval
- Policies for sharing information with other departments such as local law enforcement officials
Like most new laws that are passed, this one is sure to result in a number of questions. Several state utility associations are working with their legal counsel to provide FAQ for their members.