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PSC reforms cruise through Senate Rules panel

A bill to raise ethical standards at the Public Service Commission sailed through the Senate Rules Committee Tuesday, clearing the way for Senate floor debate as early as the first week of the 2010 session next month. The 20-member Rules Committee is one of the Senate's largest.

Citing "numerous news reports" about improper communication between PSC members and staff and utility officials about pending rate cases, Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, called for passage of the bill (SB 1034), which would levy $5,000 fines for violations. Referring to cozy relationships between commissioners, staff members and utilities, Fasano told senators: "That's not what the public wants to see. I certainly don't want to see it."

The bill requires the five commissioners to obey the code of judicial conduct, which applies to judges, and requires written and oral communications be posted on the PSC website within no more than 72 hours. An amendment extends from two to four years the term of office of the public counsel, who represents citizens in PSC rate cases.  

The vote was 17-1 with two members absent. The only dissenter, Sen. Gary Siplin, D-Orlando, criticized the provision that would extend from two to four years the ban on PSC commissioners and staffers from going to work for regulated utilities. "Why would we want to prevent people from working?" Siplin asked.

-- Steve Bousquet