Senate passes Public Service ethics billby Dara Kam | March 3rd, 2010
The Senate quietly approved a measure designed to clean up the Public Service Commission with a 39-1 vote this afternoon.
The bill (SB 1034) would make public all communications between the utilities the panel regulates and the commissioners or their advisory staff.
It would also bar commissioners or high-level staff from going to work or lobbying for the utilities for four years after they leave the PSC, double the current two-year limitation, aimed at stopping the “revolving door” between the commission and the utilities they make billion-dollar decisions about.
The bill will make certain that former commissioners and staff “will not be able to continue what they’ve done in the past and for a change our consumers will be represented,” the bill’s sponsor Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, argued.
The changes come from a 1992 grand jury report that lawmakers largely ignored designed to keep regulators and utility representatives at arm’s length.
This year’s proposal came about in the wake of reports that PSC staff and a Florida Power & Light Co. lawyer were swapping secret BlackBerry messages. Other details about questionable relationships between FPL and the commission were revealed during Juno Beach-based FPL’s proposed $1.2 billion rate hike hearing.
On the opening day of FPL’s rate increase hearing last year, Commissioner Nathan Skop revealed that the PSC’s lobbyist, Ryder Rudd, had attended a Kentucky Derby party at the Palm Beach Gardens home of FPL Vice President Ed Tancer. Rudd later quit.
Since then, the agency has struggled through investigations into BlackBerry messages exchanged between the PSC and an FPL attorney, a myriad of ethics complaints and allegations of interference from political leaders, including Gov. Charlie Crist, who threatened to not reappoint any commissioners who voted in favor of the rate hike.
The bill would also require that the commissioners behave more like judges by applying the canons of judicial conduct, including refraining from inappropriate political activity and avoiding the appearance of impropriety.
Public Service Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano is backing the proposed changes.