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Senate debates PSC ethics rules as measure chugs along fast track

In an attempt to restore public trust to the Public Service Commission, the Senate gave first-day priority to a measure that will force all communications between the regulators and the utilities they regulate to be forced into the open.

The bill, SB 1034, by Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, would not only ban all communication between former commissioners and their senior staff, it would prevent them from going to work for a utility company for four years after they leave the agency. The measure would would require regulators to operate under the judicial code of ethics and require all communications from utilities to be made public 72 hours after the PSC receives it.  

Fasano, who has championed ethics reform of the PSC since the Herald/Times first revealed that commissioners and their staff had exchanged BlackBerry messages with utility lobbyists and laywers called the episodes "egregious violations of the public trust.''

"We had staff and commissioners that were communicating with multi-billion dollar utility companies, and we didn't know anything about it,'' he said.

Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, offered an amendment to reduce the length of time commissioners and their staff could go to work for a utility when they leave the agency from four to two years.

"Four years is a long time,'' Lawson said, nothing that even legislators are only banned from lobbying the legislature for two years after they leave office. "This is really a fairness issue."

But Fasano four years was appropriate ban. "If I had my way we’d ban them forever,'' he said. "However my way isn’t going to go. We are talking about individuals who, with a vote have a huge economic impact on the pocketbook of individuals and the economy as a whole…When they go into the process they will know the rules.

Lawson said that the bill went too far and a lower standard was a "fairness issue." "You just can't buy a bag of apples without having a bad apple in the bunch,'' he said. But the bill went too far and a lower standards was "fairness issue."

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