By Maria Mallory White, Sun Sentinel
State Sen. Maria Lorts Sachs will host four free workshops this week to allow South Florida consumers take their property insurance questions and concerns directly to state government officials — but some of those officials won't be there.
A representative from Florida's Office of Insurance was scheduled to participate in the meetings — two in Broward and two Palm Beach County — but withdrew on Monday, according to Sachs office.
Rebecca Matthews, the OIR's deputy chief of staff for government affairs, had originally agreed to come. Her office said a scheduling conflict is preventing her from attending.
Citizens Property Insurance Corp. has opted to send informational handouts and not a company representative, said a company spokesman.
Officials from Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the Division of Consumer Services' Department of Financial Services and the Insurance Consumer Advocate will still attend the meetings taking place Wednesday through Friday.
"The whole idea is to connect the constituents with the government officials so they can get candid information about their insurance policies," Sachs said.
With hurricane season underway, many consumers could face rate increases, renewals, cancellations and other important insurance-related issues in the months ahead.
In addition, the state recently approved the shift of nearly 400,000 policies from Citizens to private insurance companies. That means a new crop of Citizens policyholders will have to decide to stay with the state-backed insurer or go with one of 10 private companies.
In the midst of all this, consumers may wind up confused and sometimes have difficulty tracking down answers, Sachs said.
"It's tough because we're in South Florida, and Tallahassee is very far away. Sometimes [consumers] get frustrated because it's hard to reach an official. I'm bringing Tallahassee here."
Sachs said the week's events are designed to educate and assist the public in understanding what coverage they've paid for and how to make the most of their premium dollars. She's hoping consumers — those who are her constituents and those who are not — will come and bring their policies.
"They have a question, and I've got someone from Tallahassee to help them answer that question," Sachs said. "Sometimes homeowners may not be happy with the answer they get. But at least they'll get an answer ... They'll get a straight answer from a government official, and then they know how to plan, what to secure in their home and if they need additional insurance."
The first session will take place Wednesday 6 to 8 p.m. at the Beach Community Center, 3351 NE 33rd Avenue, Fort Lauderdale.
Thursday, a mid-day workshop is scheduled for 2 to 4 p.m. in the Delray Beach Public Library, 100 West Atlantic Ave. Then, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the new Boca Raton Public Library, 400 NW 2nd Ave.
Friday, the meeting will run from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Emma Lou Olsen Civic Center, 1801 Northeast 6th Street, Pompano Beach.