The heat is on

Published: Saturday, January 24, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 23, 2004 at 10:44 p.m.

The public outcry against big rate increases for local telephone service is getting some attention in the same Legislature that authorized the rate hikes less than one year ago.

This week, Senate President Jim King, R-Jacksonville, announced that he has assigned a committee to draft legislation dealing with some of the complaints. He didn't say what might be in the new bill, but he and other legislators clearly are feeling the heat from the public.

"I don't think any of us thought we would see the industry try and move so aggressively, so fast," said Senate Majority Leader Dennis Jones, R-Treasure Island. That's another way of saying that lawmakers thought the brunt of the increases wouldn't be felt until after the 2004 legislative elections.

But the telephone companies, having gotten the legislative go-ahead they had lobbied so hard for over the past two years, went for increases ranging from $3.14 to $6.86 a month for residential service. The Public Service Commission approved the increases last month, but an appeal by Attorney General Charlie Crist has blocked them from taking effect.

The Senate isn't alone in reconsidering the issue. House Speaker Johnnie Byrd, R-Plant City, who is running for the U.S. Senate, says he is giving it a second look as well.

But Gov. Jeb Bush, who signed the telephone rate bill into law last year after vetoing a similar one shortly before his own re-election campaign in 2002, says he sees no reason to revisit the issue.

"Unless there's something specific that the PSC did that was not part of the legislation, I don't think it should be opened up again," Bush told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "And I don't know of anything specific that the PSC did that would be out of their authority."

It's doubtful, however, that Bush would veto any corrective legislation passed by lawmakers worried about their own election prospects. The public should keep the heat on them.

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