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PSC overhaul moderated in compromise House bill

TALLAHASSEE — After meeting resistance from the governor and Senate, the House on Thursday backed off a sweeping plan to overhaul the Public Service Commission and instead proposed a plan to study the structure of the utility regulation board.

The olive branch to the governor and Senate was an amendment by the House to its PSC reform bill (HB 7209) that would have separated agency's regulatory staff from commissioners. The House had sought the change to make the utility board operate more like judges, but when Gov. Charlie Crist vowed he would veto it, and the Senate leaders indicated they wouldn't support it, the House backed down.

The amendment by Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, the House sponsor, made several concessions. In addition to abandoning the attempt the restructure the PSC, it also would drop a proposed ban on commissioners who don't have a college degree — a requirement seen as a shot at Commissioner Nancy Argenziano, a Crist appointee.

Instead, the bill would allow an exception for candidates with sufficient qualifications, with a two-thirds vote of the nominating council and a written explanation.

The House bill would leave in place a ban on using the staff as a conduit for utility officials. It would tighten the rules on communications between the utilities and the PSC, banning private conversations between them. And it would prohibit commissioners from interfering with regulatory staff members.

The Senate has passed a more limited PSC reform bill, aimed at cracking down on private communications between utilities and regulators. The bill remains a priority of the Senate, said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. He said he hopes the House takes up the Senate bill.

Senate President Jeff Atwater said Thursday he hopes the House continues to move closer to the Senate measure, adding that he also wants to take a Senate vote on the confirmations of Crist's two recent appointments to the PSC, David Klement and Benjamin ''Steve'' Stevens.

Mary Ellen Klas can be reached at meklas@miamiherald.com

PSC overhaul moderated in compromise House bill 04/22/10 [Last modified: Thursday, April 22, 2010 8:30pm]

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