Jackson County Times

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Legislators…Help Us, Please!

Crowd of approximately 80 citizens attend Legislative Delegation Forum meeting.

By Sid Riley

“I have been attending these Delegation meetings for some twenty years, prior to each session of the Legislature, and this is the most unusual meeting I can recall ever attending.” Those were the closing remarks of State Senator Al Lawson at the end of the public meeting held with our three representatives on Monday evening. “Normally we hear a variety of special, individually motivated requests for changes in legislation or for new legislation at these meetings, but in this case almost everyone here was asking us to address a single problem….the cost of electricity.”

Representative Marti Coley chaired the proceedings, and Representative Brad Drake also played an active role in the agenda. Coley soon realized that almost all of the many “requests to appear” forms which were turned in at the onset of the proceedings were comments about utility rates, so she began by selecting the few requests in the stack of forms which dealt with other issues.

A registered nurse from Blountstown, Arlena Falcon, first spoke eloquently about two issues relating to area health care which are probably scheduled for action in Tallahassee this session. The first issue dealt with the need for expanding the prescription writing authority of qualified registered nurses, so that patients will not be forced to go to emergency rooms for relatively trivial problems where a simple prescription would resolve the need. She cited prescription cough medicines in her example. The other issue dealt with the Hospital Patient Protection Act which would establish higher minimum ratios of nurses per patient in hospitals, thus assuring patients are better cared for during hospital stays.

Next, a concerned Malone grandmother of a deaf child, Beverly Murdock, detailed the problems she has encountered in attempting to locate a school for the deaf which could help her granddaughter. Marti Coley promised to work with her on this problem.

Chad Taylor, local environmentalist, spoke briefly on the “Springs Initiative” and the need for continued funding from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the “water wars” conflict with Georgia.

Dr. Williams, with Trinity Outreach Ministries, discussed funding problems his faith based organization has encountered. Senator Lawson promised to work with their group to help them through the application processes.

Then the electrical issue discussions began….

Citizen after citizen took the podium describing their personal dilemmas created by soaring monthly electrical charges in the face of fixed incomes. They described sick, elderly family members living in cold, unhealthy conditions. They described living in small houses or trailers and getting electric bills ranging from $700 to $1100 after they had reduced their thermostats to below 65 degrees, cut back on lights, and exercised all reasonable conservation procedures. The “highest bill of the month” award went to one lady who had a $1700 bill for a small home.

Isaiah Morgan, who has worked extensively with Habitat for Humanity, described two “green” homes which that organization had built with special insulation, lighting, and appliances, where the electrical bills were running under $100 per month. “We can do things to solve much of this situation, if we step up and take action,” he stated.

In rebuttal, one woman stated she lived in a brand new double wide with the best energy saving appliances, and new insulation, and she had exercised constraint and still had a $1100 power bill.

The legislators listened patiently and earnestly to the parade of problems which was presented. However, they reminded the crowd , these are primarily local issues which are out of their area of control. Senator Lawson chided the local Commissioners at the county and city levels for not being at the meeting, when they were the elected officials that should initiate action in these matters.

One citizen suggested that the legislators sponsor action to move the state away from the existing system of political appointments to the Public Service Commission, and go back to a system where the PSC members are elected on a local district basis. Al Lawson stated that when the elected approach was previously used, the utilities donated heavily to a chosen candidate and thus had the “in their pocket” when they got elected. In rebuttal, the citizen suggested that the legislation include detailed constraints on donations to prevent this from reoccurring.

It was stated that those in attendance were “pleading for help from anyone who will listen. They are desperate and need some sort of relief before someone dies from the effects of the cold, or a fire is created as a result of extreme measures taken to heat their homes….or even worse, before violence occurs from the desperation of families losing their homes.”

Mr. Buddy Shelley, Division Manager for Florida Public Utilities, took the podium at the invitation of Representative Coley. She cautioned the audience to be respectful, since he was there on her invitation. Mr. Shelley briefly discussed the metering process, then stated that several payment programs are available to assist customers facing unusually high bills caused by our very cold winter. He also stated that if requested they would come to the customer’s home and audit the meter, and do an analysis to determine the cost of operation of all of the major energy consuming devices at the home. “This information can then be used by the customer to better manage his electrical usage,” Shelley stated.

The legislators promised to do all they could do to help in this situation. “We have revealed some possible solutions which will help ease this crisis’, Coley stated, “but we have not solved the problem. We must all continue to do our part to find solutions. We will do all we can do from our positions,” she concluded.

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