Tuesday, February 2, 2010
Florida utility commission reform bill clears committee
A bill by Sen. Mike Fasano to require that communications between Public Service Commission members and regulated utilities be posted publicly was approved today by a Senate committee.
Fasano, R-New Port Richey, introduced SB 1034 after the news media last fall revealed numerous contacts between commissioners and Florida Power & Light Co. representatives during hearings on the utility's rate hike request.
Those reports detailed "one of the most egregious violations of the public trust," Fasano told the Senate Committtee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities.
The bill includes commission staff in an existing prohibition against commissioners' ex parte -- or private -- communications with legally interested parties in cases before the PSC. Notices of such contacts must be posted on the commission web site within 72 hours.
Former commissioners also would be prohibited for two years from being employed by a regulated utility or a business or trade association that has participated in a PSC hearing. Former commissioners and PSC advisory staff would be banned from lobbying the legislative or executive branches for two years.
The commission supports the changes, said PSC General Counsel Curt Kiser, a former state senator. The commission is considering tougher draft legislation that would provide civil penalties on utility officials or other parties parties who participate in ex parte communications.
Commissioner Nathan Skop told FloridaEnvironments.com that proposed reforms are "long overdue" as called for in a 1992 grand jury report.
"Every four or five years you have the commission in the crossfire for ethics issues," Skop said. "It seems to me if they were to embrace the 1992 grand jury findings … that would go along way to addressing the systemic problems that occur."
Fasano said he's willing to consider the changes being considered by the PSC. "I don't want to get into this their's-is-tougher than-our's (comparison)," he said. "The law is so weak today."
Fasano also said he expects the bill to be voted on during the first week of the session, which starts March 2. The bill now goes to the Senate Rules Committee.
(Story copyrighted by Bruce Ritchie and FloridaEnvironments.com. Do not copy or redistribute without permission.)