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House wants the staff that handles utility regulation under gov and Cabinet

A House committee gave approval to a sweeping bill to reform the Public Service Commission Thursday but only after revising it in response to a veto threat from the governor and a harsh rebuke from the chairwoman of the utility board.

The House Energy and Utilities Committee's still wants to strip the PSC of its regulatory staff and put them in another entity, but rather than putting them under the Legislature -- which controls the appointment of PSC commissioners -- the amended version puts the regulatory staff under the governor and Cabinet. The amended version also moves the Office of Public Counsel from under the Legislature to the office of attorney general.

Gov. Charlie Crist called the moving of the regulatory staff to the legislature a "power grab" and threatened to veto the bill. No word yet on what he thinks of the new proposal.

PSC Commissioner Chairwoman Nancy Argenziano also blasted the House plan. PSC General Counsel Curt Kiser said Thursday that Argenziano supports moving the public counsel, the lawyers who represent the public in rate cases, to the attorney general's office. When she was a state senator she proposed legislation to do that.

Rep. Stephen Precourt, the committee chairman, also noted that his amendment:

1. Changes the term of office for commissioners and the executive director of the Office of Regulatory Staff from 6 to 4 years;
2. Clarifies that the regulatory staff and and executive director are only allowed to refrain from involvement in PSC issues if it relates to non-controversial measures.

"We're trying to address the undue influence issue from outside parties, not only with what we're doing but with the ex parte [reforms] the Senate is trying to do to try and assure that not only the PSC as a commission can stand independently and make decisions objectively but staff can do their work independently and come to conclusions objectively,'' he said.