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A Times Editorial

Three areas where the Legislature needs to get moving

Public Service Commission

After the blatant examples of Public Service Commission staffers and commissioners being too cozy with the utilities they regulate, lawmakers should be addressing the situation directly. The Senate did that by approving a bill (SB 1034) sponsored by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, which bans ex parte communication between the PSC and the utilities, adds transparency and slows the revolving door between PSC officials and higher-paid utility positions. The House should pass the Senate bill instead of trying to blow up the commission's entire structure and creating more problems than they fix.

Meanwhile, the Senate is in no hurry to confirm two Crist appointees to the PSC, David E. Klement and Benjamin Stevens. With the governor sitting in the front row, one committee voted Wednesday to confirm both men, but they still have to pass through another committee and the full Senate. It must be a coincidence that the stalling is occurring after Klement and Stevens voted to reject rate increases sought by Florida Power & Light and Progress Energy — and electric utilities gave $459,000 to the state Republican Party in the first three months of 2010. Other than embarrassing Crist, retribution for doing the right thing is not justification for failing to confirm Klement and Stevens.

Department of Community Affairs

The review of the state's growth management agency is proceeding in the Senate but stalled in the House, where many Republicans care little about managing growth and care even less for DCA Secretary Tom Pelham. They can't touch Pelham, the stalwart defender of what's left of growth management regulation. And they are not likely to get more big breaks for developers this year after letting them off the hook last year for paying for road improvements to accommodate major new projects.

So keeping the agency in limbo is the way Republicans have elected to irritate Pelham and Crist, his boss. But there are other dynamics at play. Failing to get DCA through this sunset review could boost support for Amendment 4, the illogical push to require voters to approve major land use changes. Delaying the agency's review another year also could give legislators a better shot at further eroding its authority — or abolishing the agency altogether — under a new governor and a more compliant agency secretary.

The Department of Community Affairs performs a vital role in acting as a check on unbridled development often embraced by local governments. Lawmakers should approve its review and not leave it hanging for another year.

Public corruption

Former House Speaker Ray Sansom is under indictment. Crist has removed more than 30 officeholders on corruption charges, and a statewide grand jury is convening. So legislators should have gotten the message by now that more needs to be done to go after public officials who abuse their offices.

Instead, Republican legislative leaders are ignoring legislation that would create meaningful reforms. Two bills by Sen. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, just passed through their first committee this week. One (SB 1076) would help prosecutors go after officials who use their public positions for private gain. While critics complain it is too broad, the bill would require prosecutors to prove the public official acted willfully and with corrupt intent. Another Gelber bill (SB 734) would set higher penalties for officials who use their public position to engage in a criminal act.

There is not enough time for the bills to be considered by several more Senate committees, and they are not even on the House's radar. But they may not be dead forever. Crist has said he may call a special session this summer to get legislators to toughen public corruption laws.

Legislators love to get tough on crime — except when the criminals could be their fellow government officials.

Three areas where the Legislature needs to get moving 04/14/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 14, 2010 5:22pm]
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