On February 2, 2010, the Senate Committee on Communications, Energy, and Public Utilities passed legislation that would bar Public Service Committee (PSC) staff members from engaging in ex parte discussions of issues before the PSC and impose a broad two-year lobbying ban on former commissioners and staff members.

The bill, SB 1034 by Sen. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey), explicitly responds to issues that arose in 2009 regarding questionable or improper communication between PSC staff members and regulated companies. Sen. Fasano called private discussions between a staff member and a representative of a party “one of the most egregious violations of the public trust,” and said, “Without new safeguards to ensure that one side of the case does not get a leg up on the other, decisions of the commission will never be fully trusted by the public.”

In a separate development on February 1, 2010, the Joint Committee on Public Counsel Oversight decided by a vote of 7-3 to seek applications for the post of public counsel. The public counsel, a legislative appointee, represents the public before the PSC. The action did not reflect on the current Public Counsel, J. R. Kelly, according to Rep. J. C. Planas (R-Miami), co-chair of the joint committee.

Rep. Jim Waldman (D-Coconut Creek), who voted against the motion, said that the decision to seek other applicants was “essentially a vote not to reconfirm” Mr. Kelly. Sen. Dan Gelber (D-Miami Beach), who also voted “no,” expressed the concern that the vote would send a message that the Legislature did not support a public counsel who “aggressively acted on behalf of the public.”

Mr. Kelly said he would apply for reappointment.