Senate considers utility regulatory changesby Dara Kam | March 2nd, 2010
The Senate considered some sweeping changes to Public Service Commission, the panel that oversees billions of dollars in utility rates, without voting on it.
The measure (SB 1034), which Senate President Jeff Atwater previously said he wanted passed out of the chamber today, is on the fast-track in the Senate but isn’t moving so quickly in the House.
The proposal, backed by five-member Public Service Commission and Public Counsel J.R. Kelly (who represents consumers), is aimed at injecting new ethical standards into the maligned regulatory agency entangled in secret messages swapped between staff and a Florida Power & Light Co. lawyer. That and other questionable actions did not break any Florida laws, a number of investigations found.
The changes, proposed by longtime PSC critic Sen. Mike Fasano, would require that all written and oral communications between commissioners and their aides, called ex parte communications, be put in the public record and placed online where everyone can see them.
“We had staff and commissioners that were communicating with multi-billion dollar utility companies and we didn’t know anything about it. Absolutely nothing. Now when anybody has access to them, we’re going to know within 72 hours after their transmission,” Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said.
The measure would also bar commissioners and their aides from going to work or lobbying for the utilities they regulate for four years, which would be twice the current restriction.
Senate Democratic Leader Al Lawson tried but failed to keep the limitation to two years, arguing that the restrictions surpass those of even lawmakers who control the state budget and who are barred from lobbying for just two years.
The bill would affect all the electric, water and gas companies that are regulated by the commission. Under the proposal, a company could be fined one-tenth of one percent of its annual operating revenue for violating the restrictions.
The Senate could vote out the measure as early as tomorrow.