Thursday, June 21, 2018
Business

State Rep. Dwight Dudley files bill to make Public Service Commission elected, not appointed

A St. Petersburg lawmaker wants seats on the state Public Service Commission to become elected positions in hopes of shielding the regulatory body from financial and political influence by utilities.

Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, filed a bill this week that would allow voters to pick a commissioner based on one of the five state appeals court districts where they live.

Currently, the governor appoints the five commissioners and the Senate confirms them. The commissioners, who earn $130,000 a year, serve four-year terms and can be reappointed when the term expires.

Dudley and others say that system has overly politicized the positions and led to undue influence from utilities, which donate tens of millions of dollars to gubernatorial and legislative campaigns. His proposal also would require a waiting period before a departing member of the PSC could take a job with an investor-owned utility.

"The public needs to know who the commissioners are and what the PSC does," Dudley said. "The PSC appears to work in complete and total anonymity. They are doing whatever they want. Let's have them answer to the voters."

Cindy Muir, a spokeswoman for the PSC, said the commission "will not speculate on any potential changes to the law."

"The commission has followed, and will continue to follow, the law as established in Florida statute," Muir said. "As part of our mission, the PSC provides consumer assistance and education so that consumers can make informed decisions."

Dudley's bill is the latest in a series of proposals put forth for the upcoming legislative session to revamp how the state approaches the future of energy use and production.

Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, D-Tallahassee, has introduced a bill with Rep. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, to repeal a 7-year-old law that allows utilities to charge customers in advance for new nuclear plants. The lawmakers say the advance fee simply allows utilities to collect hundreds of millions of dollars from customers without any commitment to build the proposed nuclear plants.

Rehwinkel Vasilinda also has introduced a measure to implement a 2008 constitutional amendment voters passed that would allow property tax exemptions for making certain home improvements, including adding solar panels and weatherization.

"I think this is a way to move the new energy era forward … and to do it without subsidies.

"We're trying to change the landscape to make it easier for renewable energy and conservation to compete with large-scale utilities," Rehwinkel Vasilinda said. "If you free up the market and take some of these barriers away, we can start moving down the road where we need to be."

Ivan Penn can be reached at [email protected] tampabay.com or (727) 892-2332.

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