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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Public counsel wants PSC to operate like judges

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November

Public Counsel J.R. Kelly, the lawyer who represents the public before the Public Service Commission, told the House Energy and Utilities Committee today that he supports making the PSC more like a judicial body, instead of the quasilegislative, quasijudicial body it is.

"We should take a very strong look at commissioners acting like the judiciary,'' he said. He said the PSC should be required to operate like the Division of Administrative Hearings, the judicial board that handles consumer complaints and disputes with state agencies. 

The commissioners' staff, Kelly said, should also be required to abide by the same rules that ban communications between PSC commissioners and the utilities they regulate, just like the staff of judges do. "That is an absolute must,'' Kelly told the panel.

The House committee spent two hours getting a primer on the ethics rules governing the PSC and its staff in response to news reports about the open access many representatives of the regulated utilities appear to have with the staff at the state utility board.

In the past three months, the Herald/Times has reported that Commissioner Lisa Edgar and two commission staffers exchanged BlackBerry PIN messages and texts with Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy lobbyists; another staffer lost his job after attending a party at the home of an FPL executive; Edgar and her aide acknowledged to the ethics commission that her aide relayed a message from an FPL lobbyist to Edgar   in the midst of a rate hearing; and Commissioners Edgar, Matthew Carter, Katrina McMurrian and Nathan Skop attended industry-sponsored events during pending utility cases.

Aware of the backlash over these reports, PSC executive director Mary Bane told the House committee that the commission is preparing to have its own workshop on Nov. 24 to address the question.

"Where does the commission need to address its rules and tighten it up to address the concerns that are being raised,'' she said. Among the ideas being considered: new rules as it relates to staff and commissioner communication, new rules about participating in outside conferences and seminars, and requiring all communication between the staff and regulated utilities to be in writing and entered into the record.

Kelly's recommendation came after recommendations earlier in the day by Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, who told a group of prosecuting attorneys that he has drafted legislation to make the state utility board operate like a judge and jury, and follow the rules that prohibit their staffers from discussing details of utility cases before the commission.

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[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 3:26pm]

    

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