A chief consumer advocate in FL may face term limits; will they benefit Floridians or not?

A new law will term-limit utility consumers' chief advocate. Photo credit: Magnolia677 via Wikimedia Commons

The Office of Public Counsel, the chief advocate for consumers in proceedings before the Florida Public Service Commission, may face term limits that might not benefit Floridians, critics say, though lawmakers approve of the move.

At issue is legislation that would have removed long-time Public Counsel J.R. Kelly ahead of anticipated hearings on utility rates.

But the bill was successfully amended by Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer of Broward County to grandfather Kelly in for at least four more years of service but no more than 12, which is the new cap.

Bill sponsor Sen. Wilton Simpson, a central Florida Republican and future Senate President, has not publicly explained exactly why he thinks the office should be term-limited, instead saying term limits in general bring “fresh ideas” into the process and that there is “nothing magic” about the cap being set at 12 years.

Consumer advocates and environmental groups oppose term-limiting the position, saying it would set a series of solo rookies against a force of experienced, high-powered attorneys representing corporate utility interests who face no comparable limits on how long they can serve.

Leighanne Boone of Rethink Energy Action Fund and attorneys with Earthjustice were among the critics who said setting automatic term limits on the Office of Public Counsel subjects it to being politicized every four years, when the counsel would be reappointed or replaced.

Kelly has served since 2007.

The 12-year-term limit, subject to review every four years, with an exemption for Kelly’s prior service, was adopted as an amendment to CS/CS/HB 1095, titled “Infrastructure Regulation,” and was approved in both the House and the Senate.

The bill now heads to Gov. Ron DeSantis to decide whether to approve the legislation.