PSC opens new term as Fasano and Legg plan reforms
As the Public Service Commission gavelled open its new four-year term Tuesday with the appointment of two new commissioners, legislation has already been filed that will reform the way the utility board interacts with utility officials.
Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, and Rep. John Legg, R-Port Richey, are proposing SB 1034 to ban staff and commissioners from having off-the-record (ex-parte) conversations with officials of the electric, water and wastewater utilities they regulate.
“2009 brought to light ethical lapses, lack of transparency and cozy relationships between utility executives and some commissioners and commission staff,” Fasano said in a statement. “It is time for the legislature to take action and rebuild the Public Service Commission’s entire operation. Without this action the public’s confidence in the agency that literally impacts every Floridian’s bank account cannot be restored.”
Commissioner Nancy Argenziano, who took the reins as chairwoman of the five-member commission on Tuesday, said she has her own ideas for what reforms are needed. She said she will ask commissioners to abide by the judicial code of conduct and prohibit their staff from having off-the-record, or ex-parte, conversations with utility officials until the changes are made in law. She also says that until the legislature takes itself out of the process, and the "millions of dollars" in campaign contributions from utility companies that come with it, the reform of the PSC won't be complete.
"If they are taking that kind of money, even if its innocent, how can the public feel were are independent,'' she said. "We need to be independent like judges are and I don't think the legislature will take that on so the people are going to have to work on that one."
The Fasano-Legg legislation adopts many of the recommendations made by a 1992 grand jury and also requires that any legal communications be made available to the general public. The proposal extends the employment ban that limits former commissioners and commission employees from representing clients who have business before the PSC for two years by making it illegal for former commissioners and staff to lobby either the Florida Legislature or the executive branch during that period as well.
“This important provision will end the cozy relationships that exist between utilities and the commission, and should go a long way towards restoring the integrity of the FPSC,'' Fasano said.