Do Something – Insight by Michelle
By Michelle Brannon
The still grieving and pissed-off mother of Will Brannon
August 5, 2017 is a day in which my family’s life changed forever, when our son was electrocuted by a dangerously low, out of compliance, and unmaintained electric transmission power line. After his death, there was no criminal investigation of the utility’s failure to obey state laws or accident investigation by the Public Utility Commission. So many people have come up to us since the accident and said the exact same thing, “I’ve been on that lake. I knew that line was too low. Why didn’t someone do something.”
Then we learned that this same tragedy had happened before, on the same lake, owned by the same federal agency, with the same transmission line still operated by the same power company. We asked ourselves, “Why didn’t someone do something to prevent this from happened again?”
So, after we buried our son, we started asking questions and researching regulations. We found a lot of nothing. Yes, the State of Texas required that utilities follow the National Electric Safety Code, but it didn’t require utilities to have programs regarding public safety, or conduct regular inspections of line height, or report injuries and fatalities related to their lines. Again, people say, “That is unbelievable. There should be a law. Why doesn’t somebody do something?”
So, we put aside our personal grief to DO SOMETHING.
February 5, 2019 was the first day of our education in Texas politics. It was the day that we found out that Representative Chris Paddie was going to file a bill to make utilities be more accountable to the public.
Saying a law is needed is deceptively easy; getting one passed is one of the most frustrating processes we have ever experienced. At every step, there are roadblocks and people wanting to change or use your cause for their own interests.
Yet we persevered. We made six trips to Austin this spring, spending many days walking the halls of the Capital. Visiting the office of every Senator and Representative. Testifying before both House and Senate committees. Reliving the horror of our child’s untimely death to educate our elected officials about why House Bill 4150 needed to become law. Sitting for days in the gallery of the Capital, waiting not so patiently for our bill to be debated and voted to the next step in the process. The bill was changed at nearly every step of the way. Some of the changes were good, some were not. The final version of the House Bill 4150 was less stringent and allowed several exceptions, but it still creates accountability where before there was none.
During the 2019 legislative session of 120 days, over 7,000 bills were filed. Only 1,429 of those bills made it to the Governor’s desk for signature in law. Thankfully, House Bill 4150, later named the William Thomas Heath Power Line Safety Act, was one of those bills that was signed into law. Governor Abbott signed it on Friday, June 14, 2019, without fanfare or public notice, because it was not a celebration. The passing of the WTH Act, as we affectionally call it, is a victory for all the people of Texas.
But our mission is not over. There is more to do. We are committed to doing everything we can in efforts to hopefully prevent other families from experiencing our pain and devastation.
May we never have to hear “Why didn’t someone do something?” ever again.