Four sitting Florida Public Service commissioners whose nominations were pulled back this week by Gov. Rick Scott can continue to serve through the legislative session and beyond, as can 164 other appointments that were withdrawn.
The withdrawn appointments will continue to serve until a successor qualifies, and they can vote, Scott spokeswoman Jenn Meale told the News Service Thursday.
Meale added that the withdrawn nominees arent precluded from re-applying for their positions, including the PSC commissioners.
The window for the Crist appointees to serve lasts until 45 days after the forthcoming legislative session, Meale said, unless Scott makes appointments of his own. If he doesnt, the positions currently held by PSC commissioners Ronald Bris Eduardo Balbis, Julie Brown and chairman Art Graham will officially become vacant and new applications will be solicited.
However, the chairman of the panel that vets PSC applicants for the governor said Thursday that he did not think those positions would ever get to that point.
I dont expect him to fire all four of them, Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, said. I expect him to say everybody on my management team, I want to know who they are.
Still, Bennett said Scott may make a change or two.
A former PSC commissioner said Thursday that Scott may have overstepped his bounds by pulling back Graham and Bris because they replaced commissioners who were not confirmed, not regulators whose terms were expiring.
The governors office may have exceeded its statutory authority in recalling the appointments of the four Public Service commissioners, former Commissioner Nathan Skop said in a statement. The statute clearly states that appointments made to fill a vacancy occurring due to the expiration of the term can be recalled under specific conditions. In contrast, the statute does not expressly address recalling appointments that were made to fill an unexpired term.
Bennett said he was also not sure the governor could legally recall Graham and Bris but lawmakers probably would not challenge the decision.
I think hes going to move so quickly (to make new appointments) that its going to be a moot point, he said. Were not in the mood to make a fight as much as we want to make sure that everything and everyone is legal.
Bennett added that fighting over Scotts ability to withdraw all four of Crists final PSC picks instead of just the final two would leave the important utility regulation panel unable to function.
The concern in the Legislature is that it would be too disruptive to the process, he said. Youd have only one commissioner who has any seniority. Graham is the chairman, so the timing would be difficult.