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Senator ready to give up fight over utilities study


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 7, 2000

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida's two biggest electric companies are so powerful state legislators will not pass any bill they don't want, says Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon.

As chairman of the Senate's Regulated Industries Committee, Lee has direct experience with Florida Power Co. and Florida Power & Light.

He has been trying to pass a bill to establish a study commission that would look at the state's future electric needs and recommend whether the utilities should be deregulated.

The power companies want a moratorium against the construction of new generating plants while the study is conducted.

"They are too powerful," Lee said Thursday. "They have been around a long time and have a lot of relationships in this process. It's an unfortunate state for our democracy."

Lee said he is about to throw in the towel, withdraw his bill and ask Gov. Jeb Bush to appoint a study commission on his own.

"I thought I'd let it sit for a couple of days in my head," Lee said. "I don't have any confidence the Legislature can pass a bill on this. And I'm not going to be responsible for getting another 50 lobbyists hired."

A spokesman for Bush said the governor favors a study of the state's electric needs, but would not support a measure that included a moratorium against the construction of so-called merchant plants in Florida.

Lee's bill has generated dozens of lobbyists from the state's power companies and dozens of independent generating companies called merchant companies.

On Wednesday as his committee considered an amendment that would have blocked new generating companies from building plants in Florida for the next two years, lobbyists were standing room only in the Legislature's biggest committee room.

Sen. W.D. Childers said the money being spent to put lobbyists in the room "would sink the Titanic."

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