ALBANY, N.Y., June 18, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Utility consumers would have a strong advocate with the power to push back when utility companies push for rate increases under an AARP-backed bill that passed the New York State Assembly today. The bill (A6239), sponsored by Assembly Consumer Affairs and Protection Committee Chair Jeffrey Dinowitz (D- Bronx), would establish a utility consumer utility advocate office, bringing New York in line with 40 other states and the District of Columbia. New Yorkers pay the highest average residential electric rates in the continental United States, 58 percent above the national average, according to the latest data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Con Edison customers paid more than twice the national average in March, the most recent monthly information available. Residential utility consumers are no match for deep-pocketed utilities and major commercial users, who regularly send teams of experts to make their case when the utility regulating-state Public Service Commission rules on rate increases. "It's no coincidence that New Yorkers pay some of America's highest electric bills and live in one of the only states – and by far the biggest - without a real utility consumer advocate," said Beth Finkel, State Director of AARP in New York. "AARP applauds Assemblyman Dinowitz and his colleagues for listening to older New Yorkers, who clearly feel their elected officials aren't doing enough about this major and unavoidable expense." A recent AARP survey showed 75 percent of New Yorkers 50 and older don't think their elected officials are doing enough to protect them from rate hikes, while an equal number support a utility consumer advocate office. The utility consumer advocate office would have political independence and the power to sue over unfair rate hikes. As detailed in an AARP report, New York's support for utility consumer advocacy has dwindled significantly over the past two decades while other states' utility consumer advocates return hundreds of dollars in lower rates for residential customers for every dollar spent. AARP New York applauds Assemblyman Dinowitz and his colleagues for taking action on this year's top legislative priority for New Yorkers 50 and older and calls on the state Senate to pass the bill (S4550), sponsored there by Sen. Diane Savino (D- Staten Island). State Director Finkel had recently sent a letter to state legislators from Long Island urging action before the end of the 2013 state legislative session. "New Yorkers need a level playing field when it comes to fighting rate hikes and other complex regulatory issues; this bill gives it to them. It's a clear move in the right direction for New York consumers," added Finkel. The Association, representing 2.5 million New Yorkers 50 and older, is also urging that the Moreland Act Commission established by Governor Andrew Cuomo to investigate utility performance in the wake of Superstorm Sandy include a utility consumer advocate office in its second round of recommendations, which are due this month. Older New Yorkers, particularly retirees and seniors on fixed income, tend to be more vulnerable to increases in utility costs because they must devote a higher portion of their income to energy bills.