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Florida Senate Approves Ethics Bill for State Utility Regulators.

Orlando, Fla. — A bill aimed at tightening the ethics rules for state utility regulators sailed through the Florida Senate on Wednesday. The measure, which has not yet been considered by the Florida House, would expand restriction on communication between regulators and utility providers making any conversation between the Public Service Commission (PSC) and utilities public.

If passed, the bill would ban all private conversation between the two parties and require the five commissioners to obey the code of judicial conduct, which applies to judges, and would require written and oral communications be made public within 72 hours. An amendment would also extend the current two year ban placed on senior staff and PSC Commissioners from leaving the agency and going to work for a utility to four years.

The vote passed on the bill (SB 1034) 39-1 with two members absent.  The lone dissenter, Sen. Gary Siplin, D- Orlando criticized the provision that would extend the current ban for staffers and PSC Commissioners to four years. Siplin asked “Why would we want to prevent people from working?” The bill will now be placed in the House where a similar measure (HB 565) is still in committee.

Gov. Charlie Crist expressed his satisfaction with the vote stating “The Senate’s approval of this bill sends the message that integrity and transparency in government and public officials is imperative and anything less will not be tolerated.” Last year Crist complained about the closeness of some PSC commissioners and utilities.

Also on Wednesday, the Florida District Court of Appeal in Tallahassee overruled the PSC’s order to force FPL and Progress Energy to disclose employee salary and benefit packages as part of their rate case request. The PSC wanted the companies to disclose salary information on every employee earning more than $165,000 a year to determine if salaries were excessive. The courts ruled in favor of the utility companies that disclosing salaries would invade employee privacy rights and expose sensitive business information. At FPL approximately 4,400 employees fell into that category.  FPL’s rate case ended with FPL receiving $75 million of the $1.3 billion requested; while Progress Energy received none of the $500 million it requested.