In the way that a detective admires a master criminal, I whistle in amazement at our state House and its new bill that "reforms" the Florida Public Service Commission.
Bluntly put, this is one of the most wicked bills ever filed. The Legislature's past favors for Florida's electric companies (advance billing for nuclear plants, etc.) pale in comparison.
It's hard to know where to start. This 72-page bill that magically popped up for the first time on Tuesday would, among other things:
• Take away the PSC's entire regulatory staff and put it under the direct political control of the Legislature. The bill says the Legislature can fire that staff's director "at any time," just as it tried earlier this year to fire the public's advocate, Public Counsel J.R. Kelly, stopped only by public outcry.
• Declare that this staff, once under the Legislature's control, has "discretion" not to get involved in utility cases at all — keeping the staff on the sidelines while outgunned consumer advocates fight high-powered utility lawyers before a gutted PSC.
• Strip away the PSC's power to do anything by itself, such as opening its own cases, seeking information from utilities, reducing rates, punishing wrongful acts by utilities— or even going to court to have its own rulings enforced!
• Disqualify at least one, maybe two, of the five current PSC members who just voted against a big electric rate hike.
• Limit future PSC members to candidates with utility experience or other professional backgrounds (but no longer "public policy" experience) — with six-year terms instead of four.
The House claims this bill makes the PSC a true panel of "impartial judges." Impotent stooges is more like it.
This is brutal payback.
In January, because of Gov. Charlie Crist's appointments to the PSC, the commission made a historic decision to deny big rate increases to Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy Florida. This bill makes sure such a ruling never, ever happens again.
On Wednesday I spoke with PSC Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano, an increasingly outspoken critic of the Legislature as the tool of utility campaign money. She would not be reappointed under this bill because she does not have a bachelor's degree.
"If the Legislature wants to run the PSC, let's stop pretending," Argenziano said. "Let's stop disguising it. Why pretend? Just buy it from the Legislature. I don't see how under this legislation we need public service commissioners at all."
The Senate already has passed a more common-sense bill by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. That bill simply strengthens the rules against improper contact between the PSC and regulated companies.
The House bill, Fasano says, "puts the Legislature and politics even more into the process. It reeks of the utility companies' participation."
The House bill is an anonymous "proposed committee bill" by the Energy & Utilities Policy Committee. To read it, go to the House's Web site (myfloridahouse.com), find that committee under "Councils & Committees," look for "Proposed Committee Bills," and click on the bill labeled "PCB EUP 10-04.pdf."8444.
For the first time in decades, the PSC said "no" to Florida's electric companies, and the Legislature's response is to blow up the PSC? Really?
If they pass it, I hope that the people of Florida spend the rest of this election year making them regret it.