2020 Regular Session
To: Public Utilities
By: Representative Bain
AN ACT TO ENACT THE "TELECOMMUNICATIONS FRAUD PREVENTION AND UTILITY INFRASTRUCTURE PROTECTION ACT"; TO PROVIDE THE MISSISSIPPI PUBLIC SERVICE COMMISSION WITH THE POWER TO ENTER INTO JOINT INVESTIGATIVE AGREEMENTS WITH OTHER LAW ENFORCEMENT AGENCIES; TO PROVIDE THE COMMISSION WITH THE AUTHORITY TO EMPLOY OR DESIGNATE FRAUD AND ENFORCEMENT AGENTS WHO SHALL BE CERTIFIED LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS APPOINTED BY THE COMMISSION; TO PROVIDE THAT THESE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS MAY ENFORCE AND INVESTIGATE ANY ALLEGED VIOLATIONS OF THE MISSISSIPPI TELEPHONE SOLICITATION ACT, CALLER ID ANTI-SPOOFING ACT, AUTOMATIC DIALING-ANNOUNCING DEVICES ACT AND THE UNSOLICITED RESIDENTIAL TELEPHONIC SALES CALLS ACT, AND THE RULES, REGULATIONS AND GENERAL ORDERS OF THE COMMISSION PROMULGATED TO ADMINISTER AND ENFORCE SAID ACTS; TO PROVIDE SUCH LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS WITH THE AUTHORITY TO INVESTIGATE NUMEROUS OTHER UNLAWFUL ACTS AND CRIMES; TO PROVIDE THAT THE REGULATORY AND SUPERVISORY JURISDICTION OF THE COMMISSION SHALL NOT BE EXPANDED BY THIS ACT; TO REQUIRE THE COMMISSION TO MAKE A REPORT TO THE LEGISLATURE NOT LATER THAN DECEMBER 31, 2021, REGARDING THIS ACT; TO REPEAL SECTION 77-1-21, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, WHICH AUTHORIZES THE DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION TO EMPLOY AN ENFORCEMENT OFFICER AND INSPECTORS TO IMPLEMENT THE MOTOR CARRIER REGULATORY LAW; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
SECTION 1. This act may be known and may be cited as the "Telecommunications Fraud Prevention and Utility Infrastructure Protection Act."
SECTION 2. It is declared to be the policy of the State of Mississippi that deceptive, scam, telemarketing, and fraudulent activities by way of telecommunications and other means are negatively impacting the citizens of the state resulting in massive monetary and property losses and that additional action by the Mississippi Public Service Commission is needed to protect Mississippians, especially vulnerable populations, from imposters using telecommunications to defraud consumers by identifying those involved and investigating these actions to the fullest to stop said criminal activity.
It is further declared to be the policy of the State of Mississippi that the safe, reliable delivery of public utility service across the state is made possible by properly protected public utility infrastructure and that the Mississippi Public Service Commission is appropriately positioned to aid law enforcement efforts to investigate destructive acts against public utility critical infrastructure, property, and theft of utility service.
SECTION 3. Nothing in this act shall be construed to increase the regulatory jurisdiction of the commission as said jurisdiction is defined in Section 77-3-1, et seq., or any duty or ability to supervise any public utility other than such laws as are in effect at the time of passage of this act or to in any way supersede or infringe upon any authority granted to any state agency or law enforcement agency.
SECTION 4. Whenever used in this act, the following terms shall have the following meanings unless the context clearly indicates otherwise:
(a) "Person" means an individual, firm, copartnership, corporation, company, association or joint-stock association, and includes any trustee, receiver, assignee or personal representative thereof.
(b) "Commission" means the Mississippi Public Service Commission.
(c) "Telecommunications" means any apparatus that facilitates voice or text communication over a distance by cable, wire, voice-over Internet protocol, cellular or wireless networks, or any other facility that allows voice or text communication between two (2) or more persons.
(d) "Public utility infrastructure" means any apparatus, equipment, or property of a public utility that facilitates the provision of public utility services in the State of Mississippi.
(e) "Fraud and enforcement agent" means any person employed or designated by the commission as a fraud and enforcement agent as described by the terms of this act.
(f) "Subject acts" means the Mississippi Telephone Solicitation Act, Section 77-3-701, et seq.; the Unsolicited Residential Telephonic Sales Calls Act, Section 77-3-601, et seq.; the Caller ID Anti-Spoofing Act, Section 77-3-801, et seq.; and the Automatic Dialing-Announcing Devices Act, Section 77-3-451, et seq.
SECTION 5. For the purpose of carrying out the provisions of this act, the commission may:
(a) Enter into joint investigative agreements and coordinate and cooperate in any investigation requested by any federal, state, or local law enforcement agency, along with any agency or political subdivision of the State of Mississippi; and
(b) Administer, execute and enforce all other provisions of this act, make necessary orders in connection therewith, and prescribe rules, regulations and procedures for such administration.
SECTION 6. For the purpose of enforcing the provisions of this act and subject acts, the commission may employ or designate fraud and enforcement agents, who shall be under the supervision of the commission. Each fraud and enforcement agent shall be qualified by experience and training in law enforcement or investigative work and shall be certified as a law enforcement officer, in accordance with Section 45-6-11. The commission shall give preference in hiring to persons with previous law enforcement experience. All fraud and enforcement agents shall be appointed by the commission and shall be subject to removal at any time by the commission.
SECTION 7. (1) Fraud and enforcement agents may enforce and investigate any alleged violations of the Mississippi Telephone Solicitation Act, Caller ID Anti-Spoofing Act, Automatic Dialing-Announcing Devices Act, Unsolicited Residential Telephonic Sales Calls Act and the rules, regulations and general orders of the commission promulgated to administer and enforce said acts.
(2) Additionally, fraud and enforcement agents may investigate the following unlawful acts and crimes:
(a) Section 97-19-35, which relates to false representation to receive money or valuable property;
(b) Sections 97-19-21 through 97-19-27, which relate to procuring, furnishing, and receiving money, goods, or services with the intent to defraud;
(c) Section 43-47-19, which relates to exploitation of a vulnerable person;
(d) Section 97-29-45, which relates to obscene electronic telecommunications;
(e) Section 97-23-19, which relates to embezzlement;
(f) Section 97-45-19, which relates to identity theft;
(g) Section 97-19-13, which relates to credit card theft;
(h) Section 97-19-83, which relates to mail fraud;
(i) Section 97-45-3, which relates to computer fraud;
(j) Section 97-45-15, which relates to cyberstalking;
(k) Sections 97-7-43 and 97-7-44, which relate to impersonating a public officer or employee;
(l) Sections 97-1-1 through 97-1-9, which relate to conspiracy, accessories and attempts, but limited to the unlawful acts and crimes enumerated in this section;
(m) Section 97-7-31, which relates to destroying or tampering with licensed communications systems;
(n) Section 97-25-1, which relates to destruction of electric power facilities or equipment;
(o) Sections 97-17-41 and 97-17-43, which relate to petit and grand larceny, but limited to instances arising from theft of utility services or property;
(p) Section 97-25-3, which relates to theft of service and tampering with utility meters;
(q) Section 97-25-53, which relates to destroying telephone lines; and
(r) Section 97-25-54, which relates to theft of telecommunication services.
SECTION 8. (1) Fraud and enforcement agents shall have the powers of a law enforcement officer of this state, and shall have the right to bear arms, investigate crimes, subject to the limitations of this act, serve and execute search warrants, conduct civil asset forfeiture as authorized under existing law in conjunction with the Attorney General, and other valid legal process, and make arrests.
(2) Fraud and enforcement agents may aid and assist any law enforcement officer whose life or safety is in jeopardy. With the approval of the commission or its designee(s), fraud and enforcement agents may assist other law enforcement agencies in searching for convicted felons who have escaped or for alleged felons.
(3) Upon request of any law enforcement agency, the Mississippi Highway Patrol, a sheriff of any county or the chief of police of any municipality, the Attorney General, Secretary of State, State Auditor, District Attorney, any municipal or county prosecuting attorney, or any public utility and with the consent of the commission, or its designee(s), fraud and enforcement agents may assist in any investigation related to any crime, subject to the limitations of this act.
Furthermore, fraud and enforcement agents upon approval by the commission or its designee(s) shall have the authority to assist any law enforcement agency or political subdivision of the state during time of natural disasters such as hurricanes, tornados or floods.
(4) Nothing in this act shall be construed as granting the commission or its fraud and enforcement agents general police powers, except those powers and authorities enumerated in this act.
(5) Specifically, the commission, at the request of the Attorney General, Secretary of State, State Auditor or any other agency or officer of the state, shall cooperate and assist in any investigation, subject to the limitations of this act.
SECTION 9. The commission may purchase, subject to its budget set by the Mississippi Legislature, all necessary equipment to enforce the provisions of this act, and to pay for the same out of any funds appropriated to the commission.
SECTION 10. For the purpose of administering and enforcing the provisions of this act, the commission may provide mutual aid and is encouraged and empowered to cooperate with any other law enforcement agencies in a manner consistent with the enforcement of this act.
SECTION 11. The Public Service Commission shall make a report regarding this act to the Speaker of the House, Lieutenant Governor, Chairman of the House Public Utilities Committee and Chairman of the Senate Energy Committee not later than December 31, 2021, which report shall include the number and detail, to the extent such disclosure is not required to be kept confidential, of the following: investigations, indictments or information, ongoing prosecutions, and convictions under this act. Additionally, the report should indicate which other law enforcement agencies, public officials or other entities that the law enforcement officers empowered under this act have been in cooperation with on any matters, and to what extent, to the extent such disclosure is not required to be kept confidential.
SECTION 12. Sections 1 through 12 of this act shall stand repealed from and after July 1, 2022.
SECTION 13. Section 77-1-21, Mississippi Code of 1972, which authorizes the Department of Transportation to employ an enforcement officer and inspectors to implement the Motor Carrier Regulatory Law, is repealed.
SECTION 14. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after its passage.