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Controversy surrounds Surgeon General pick and rate hikes expected for electric company customers

 Gov. Ron DeSantis (left) introduces newly appointed Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo (right) in a press conference in September 2021.
Gov. Ron DeSantis (left) introduces newly appointed Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo (right) in a press conference in September 2021.

Gov. DeSantis’ pick to be the state’s next Surgeon General has been embroiled in controversy ever since he was announced.

Dr. Joseph Ladapo has spoken out against mask mandates and vaccine requirements-- which has raised concerns in the medical community.

But this week, Ladapo has come under fire for refusing to wear a mask in the office of a state senator who has breast cancer.

Several Democrats and some newspaper editorial boards have called for Dr. Ladapo’s resignation. But DeSantis is sticking by his pick.

“He actually explained he offered numerous accomodations and it was more about an issue. There’s pictures very close with no mask in other instances,” DeSantis said this week. “I don’t see people talking about that, they’re trying to politicize this.”

Earlier this week, Democratic Sen. Tina Polsky, who represents parts of Palm Beach and Broward counties, accused Ladapo of refusing her request to wear a mask in her office.

Ladapo says he offered to accommodate the senator by moving outside. Pictures from earlier in the day do show Polsky alongside other mask-less senators in a committee hearing.

FPL customers will see rate increase

Millions of Florida residents can soon expect higher utility bills.

Earlier this week, state utility regulators approved a series of base-rate increases for Florida Power & Light that will result in higher monthly bills for customers. Bills are expected to rise by 20% over the next several years.

Despite arguments that residential and small business customers will end up subsidizing costs for some larger customers, the Public Service Commission unanimously supported this four-year rate settlement. It calls for a $692 million increase in base rates — beginning in January.

An additional increase of $560 million is planned for 2023, with more increases set for 2024 and 2025 to pay for solar projects.

Energy and Policy Institute research associate Alissa Schafer said the reason why the rate hike was approved despite opposition is the result of utilities being able to capture the regulatory environment over the last few decades.

“And when we say the regulatory environment, we're talking about the Public Service Commission. They're the ones that just voted to approve this rate hike. We're also talking about the Office of Public Counsel, and we're also talking about the Florida Legislature,” Schafer said.

“Those three bodies together, really over the last several years, have come under control of the investor-owned utilities, and that's been through a series of millions of dollars of political donations, heavy investment in lobbying. And at the end of the day, it gets us to where we are here, where we see this $1.5 billion dollar rate hike, hitting the residential customers the hardest.”

FPL customers will start seeing higher utility bills in January 2022.

Andrea Perdomo is a producer for WLRN News.