Tampa Bay legislators will push bills in the upcoming session to curb what they call the "coziness" between the Public Service Commission and Florida utility companies.
For months, area lawmakers have been hearing from Duke Energy ratepayers irate about company billing practices. A bill (SB 288) by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, would prohibit rate increases based on extended billing periods and prevent what customers claim are steep hikes in utility deposits. Latvala's bill also would require annual ethics training for PSC commissioners and would require the commission to annually hold public hearings around the state in utilities' service areas.
"I can't remember," Latvala said, "the last time the Public Service Commission met in the Tampa Bay service area of Duke Energy."
It's an open question whether Latvala's bill can pass in a pro-business Legislature where the major utilities, including Florida Power & Light, Gulf Power and others, are major players. But the bill is a two-by-four that enables Latvala and his allies to seize the high ground in the debate over whether the PSC is looking out for consumers or utility companies.
Joining Latvala at a Capitol news conference were Reps. Kathleen Peters, R-South Pasadena, Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor and Chris Latvala, R-Clearwater, son of the senator. Sprowls has filed a separate bill (HB 199) that would prevent a legislator from becoming a member of the PSC until two years after leaving office.
"Citizens are really tired," Peters told reporters. "They feel they're being taken advantage of." She said it's unfair for utilities to require small businesses to deposit the equivalent of six months of utility payments: "That doesn't make us a business friendly state," Peters said.
The five PSC members are appointed by the governor from lists of candidates recommended by a nominating council, a legislative body where most appointments are controlled by legislators. Latvala's bill would require anyone who lobbies the nominating council to register as a lobbyist -- the same as in the Legislature.
On Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott attended the swearing-in ceremony for a close political ally and the panel's newest member, former Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City, a restaurateur.