Florida Senate panel supports limits on public counsel

A Senate panel moved forward Monday with a proposal that would require appointment every four years of the state public counsel and place 12-year term limits on the position.

The public counsel leads an office that represents consumers in utility issues, primarily before the Florida Public Service Commission. The public counsel, currently J.R. Kelly, is appointed by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Public Counsel Oversight and serves at “the pleasure” of the committee, according to state law. But the bill (SPB 7052), approved Monday by the Senate Innovation, Industry and Technology Committee, would require an appointment to the position every four years, with no public counsel serving more than 12 years.

Kelly, an attorney whose office frequently battles utilities, has held the position since 2007. The bill drew opposition Monday from environmental groups, who pointed to the highly technical nature of utility issues and said limiting the terms of the public counsel could put consumers at a disadvantage when going against utilities.

“The chief counsel for the various utilities will not be subject to this term limit, and the utilities will not be forced to give up their choice in representation,” said Bradley Marshall, an attorney for Earthjustice. “The chief counsel for the citizens of Florida should not be subject to such a unilateral limitation. It is vital for Floridians who care about utility bills to have a robust and independent public counsel like J.R. Kelly.”

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.