Volume 6 Number 18 May 1, 2009

Dear Floridian:

The Capitol has been abuzz this week as lawmakers are working to wrap-up important pieces of legislation, and I have been speaking out about my priorities that protect Floridians.

On Thursday, I was pleased to see the Safeguard our Seniors legislation I have championed pass in the Florida Senate. As many of you know, I have worked tirelessly to get this legislation passed, which offers better financial protections for Florida’s seniors and increases penalties against unscrupulous agents. And while some in the Florida House let politics and special interest stop them from taking up this important bill, please know that I won’t let anyone stop me from pushing for better financial protections for our seniors!

This week, I also spoke out in support of legislation to give more of Florida’s children the health care they need and I urged Legislators to continue the My Safe Florida Home program with existing funds, allowing us to strengthen more homes without asking for additional funding.

During this session, I have worked to protect Florida’s seniors and families. As we go into next week’s extended session and throughout the year, I will continue to work to protect your tax dollars and priorities.

Sincerely,

Alex




Alex Sink
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida


Safeguard Our Seniors Task ForceCFO Sink commends Florida Senate for passing Safeguard Our Seniors legislation to protect seniors

Bi-Partisan Legislation Sponsored by Senator Mike Bennett (R-Bradenton) and Representative Keith Fitzgerald (D-Sarasota) Puts “Alligator Teeth” Into Annuity Laws

CFO Sink discusses Safeguard Our Seniors

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink on Thursday commended the Florida Senate for passing her Safeguard Our Seniors legislation sponsored by State Senator Mike Bennett (SB 1372) and State Representative Keith Fitzgerald. The legislation, which was approved unanimously, increases the penalty for unscrupulous agents who defraud senior investors to a third degree felony and establishes better disclosures and protections upfront for seniors who invest in these products.

CFO Sink saw a need for the legislation after her department heard from hundreds of seniors and their families who say they were convinced to liquidate annuities, CDs, stocks and savings accounts to fund new annuities only to discover these actions robbed them of their savings.  She created a Safeguard our Seniors Task Force last fall to examine and recommend solutions to better protect Florida seniors against financial fraud, and this year teamed up with key lawmakers to push legislation that addresses these issues.

“The number of complaints from Florida seniors about annuities has nearly quadrupled in the last three years,” said CFO Sink, whose department has opened nearly 500 administrative cases on financial fraud involving seniors, with approximately 70 percent of cases related to annuity and life insurance transactions. “This legislation offers much-needed financial protections for our growing population of senior residents and tougher consequences for those who defraud our seniors, and I am pleased it passed in the Florida Senate.”

Because the House companion bill filed by Representative Fitzgerald was not heard in committee meetings, the legislation has not passed the House of Representatives and may not become effective Florida law this year. CFO Sink called on the House to take up this important legislation before session ends.

“I commend the Florida Senate for recognizing that our seniors deserve better, but I am very disappointed that the Florida House decided to play politics rather than address this important issue,” said CFO Sink.

Under the legislation, the act of “twisting” an annuity to a senior consumer would be a third degree felony, bringing this violation in line with the penalty currently applied to a securities broker-dealer under Florida law.  Other protections under the proposed legislation also:

The Safeguard Our Seniors Task Force includes representatives from AARP Florida, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Insurance Consumer Advocate, Offices of Insurance Regulation and Financial Regulation, NAACP, Florida Bar, American Council of Life Insurers, insurance agents and securities broker-dealers. 

To learn more about the Safeguard Our Seniors Task Force or what to consider when purchasing annuities, visit www.FLSeniors.net. Senior Floridians who believe they may have been the victim of annuity fraud should call 1-877-My-FL-CFO or log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com to file a complaint.


Florida KidCareCFO Sink applauds passage of KidCare legislation

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink today commended the Florida House for their passage of legislation to simplify and streamline Florida’s KidCare program (SB 918). The bill, which will make health care more accessible for Florida’s children, now heads to the Governor’s desk for signature.

“In these tough times, I commend the Legislature for allowing more Florida families to get their children the heath care they need,” said CFO Sink. “These KidCare reforms will remove unnecessary barriers that make it harder for Florida’s children to have health care, and will allow Florida to get more of our fair share of federal funding available for children’s health insurance programs.”

CFO Sink, who chaired the Healthy Kids Board during her first 20 months in office, has championed the legislation sponsored by Senator Nan Rich and Representative Jimmy Patronis that removes administrative barriers to increase and expedite enrollment.

The Florida Healthy Kids program is a public-private partnership that allows Florida’s families to purchase health insurance for their children. Florida Healthy Kids is one of four components of the larger Florida KidCare program. Florida Healthy Kids coverage includes regular doctor visits, dental check-ups and immunizations. For more information about enrollment in Florida KidCare, visit www.FloridaKidCare.org to apply on-line or call 1-888-540-5437 to receive an application by mail.


Cabinet Resolution for Public Service Recognition Week May 4-9

The Governor and Cabinet passed a resolution at the April 28, 2009, Cabinet meeting recognizing May 4-9, 2009, as Public Service Recognition week in the State of Florida.

This resolution has been celebrated since 1985 to honor the men and women who serve our Nation as federal, state, county and local government employees, ensuring government services are efficient, effective, accessible and responsive to the diverse needs of residents.

The State of Florida Pam Vause and CFO Sinkjoins other state, federal and local governments in honoring the dedication, talents and contributions of public service employees working in all levels of government.

Accepting the resolution on behalf of DFS is Pam Vause, who has been with the Department for 36 years and is a Management Analyst in the Division of Agents & Agency Services. Pam began her career with the State of Florida in 1970. In her current role at A & A, she provides administrative support and is responsible for completing the Division’s purchasing reconciliation reports and monitoring Sonitrol access. Prior to coming to the Director’s office, Pam worked in every work unit of the Bureau of Licensing. According to Pam, she was here before the computers!

The following employees were designated by each Cabinet Officer and were recognized:Public Service Recognition resolution recipients

Left to right: Attorney General Bill McCollum, Governor Charlie Crist, CFO Alex Sink, Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson, Emery Gainey, Pam Vause, Rick Barber, Mavis Knight and Dennis Gainey.


CFO Sink restricts Lake Wales funeral home director's activities after decomposed body found

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink has filed an emergency order immediately prohibiting a Lake Wales funeral home director and embalmer from performing embalming of bodies after a routine inspection by the Department of Financial Services led to the discovery of an improperly embalmed body that had been left to decompose for more than three months.

The body of the man, a 75-year-old Jamaican native, was laid to rest on Saturday, April 18, 2009, in Lake Wales Cemetery. The man died on December 22, 2008.

“This is reprehensible from a licensed professional in this industry,” said CFO Sink. “This individual was entrusted to do an important and sacred job, and failed.”

The emergency order, signed last week, requires Epps Mortuary, located at 626 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Blvd. North in Lake Wales, to find a licensee to conduct the embalming per approval of the department. The department has since approved licensees to conduct the embalming and refrigeration and confirm compliance with state law, which requires bodies to be embalmed or refrigerated within 24 hours. They also are required to notify the department of any bodies that may be stored at the facility for more than seven days.

An inspector from the department’s Division of Funeral, Cemetery and Consumer Services conducted a routine inspection on March 26 at Epps Mortuary. She said she immediately knew something was wrong because of a strong odor and found the badly deteriorated body when in the preparation room. In addition to not being refrigerated, the body had either been inadequately embalmed or not embalmed at all and was infested with maggots and other insects, was covered in heavy mold growth, and was leaking fluids.

Events such as these are extremely rare and can be prevented if families and friends follow these tips:

CFO Sink oversees the Department of Financial Services, which licenses and regulates the funeral and cemetery industry through the Division of Cemetery, Funeral and Consumer Services. This department regulates 9,000 licensees including funeral directors, funeral homes, and pre-need sales agents.

Consumers who have a complaint about this or another funeral home or want to find out more about the industry should visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com or call the CFO’s consumer helpline at 1-877-My-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).


CFO Sink urges continuation of My Safe Florida Home program with existing fundsMy Safe Florida Home

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink on Thursday sent a letter to Senate President Atwater and House Speaker Cretul urging the continuation of the successful My Safe Florida Home program with half of the funds remaining in the program. CFO Sink requested that at least 50% of the estimated $30-$40 million in unused funding be transferred into the FY 09-10 Budget, instead of forcing the My Safe Florida Home program to end this year.

“In these challenging economic times, a renewed commitment to hardening homes against hurricanes with the My Safe Florida Home program is a smart investment for Florida. I hope that you recognize the need to continue this successful program, and allow at least 50 percent of the remaining funding to be used to help more Floridians strengthen their homes,” CFO Sink wrote.

Read the letter.


CFO Sink calls for funding of Inland Protection Trust Fund

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink on Friday urged the Florida Legislature to make sure the Inland Protection Trust Fund (IPTF) is adequately funded, so that the clean-up work can continue on sites contaminated by leaking underground storage tanks and that the clean-up progress already being made is not wasted.

“Adequately funding the Inland Protection Trust Fund is a smart investment -- it provides long term cost savings by avoiding the potential costs of contaminated drinking water,” said CFO Sink. “If the Legislature fails to adequately fund the Inland Protection Trust Fund and clean-up is stopped, contamination can spread, making any future clean-up extremely expensive and putting the state’s drinking water source at serious risk. Holding back funding also wastes millions of dollars that are invested in clean-up projects that are currently underway.”

Petroleum storage tanks constitute a significant threat to the quality of Florida’s vital underground water resources. Florida currently receives 90 percent of its drinking water from underground sources.

“The Legislature should consider the long-term public health and economic consequences of stopping this clean-up program, instead of relying on this short-sighted plan to divert trust fund money,” CFO Sink continued.


CFO Sink appointed to Florida Supreme Court Task Force on Mortgage Foreclosures

The following individuals are appointed to the Task Force for a term that expires on September 30, 2009:

The Honorable Jennifer Bailey, Circuit Court Judge, Eleventh Judicial Circuit, Miami, FL

Ms. Rosezetta Bobo, Consultant/Mediator, Tallahassee, FL

Mr. Alan Bookman, Pensacola, FL

Ms. Arnell Bryant-Willis, E.W. Bryant Associates, Tallahassee, FL

Mr. J. Thomas Cardwell, Akerman Senterfitt, Orlando, FL

Ms. April Charney, Jacksonville Area Legal Aid

The Honorable Burton Conner, Committee on Alternative Dispute Resolution Rules and Policy Circuit Court Judge, Nineteenth Judicial Circuit, Ft. Pierce, FL

Ms. Sandra Fascell Diamond, Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section of The Florida Bar, Seminole, FL

Mr. Michael M. Fields, Florida Bankers Association, Tallahassee, FL

Gregory Firestone, Ph.D., Committee on Alternative Dispute Resolution Rules and Policy University of South Florida Conflict Resolution Collaborative, Tampa, FL

The Honorable Lee E. Haworth, Chief Judge, Twelfth Judicial Circuit, Sarasota, FL

The Honorable Claudia Isom, Rules of Civil Procedure Committee of The Florida Bar Circuit Court Judge, Thirteenth Judicial Circuit, Tampa, FL

Mr. Perry S. Itkin, Committee on Alternative Dispute Resolution Rules and Policy Dispute Resolution, Inc., Fort Lauderdale, FL

The Honorable Alex Sink, Chief Financial Officer, State of Florida

Ms. Rebecca Storrow, ADR Director, Fifteenth Judicial Circuit, West Palm Beach, FL


Florida Housing HelpDepartment of Financial Services presents five Florida Housing Help workshops

The Department of Financial Services held five Florida Housing Help workshops in southwest Florida this week. The workshops informed licensed mortgage brokers, real estate agents, housing industry professionals and homeowners about the features and benefits of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act).

Speakers included Armando Fana, Miami Field Office Director, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, discussing the Federal Housing and Community Development programs under the Recovery Act, various HUD programs and Making Homes Affordable Program.

Jay Fanning, Senior Tax Specialist of the Internal Revenue Service, spoke on the Recovery Act’s tax incentives, and Michael G. Moore, Assistant General Counsel in the Florida Office of Financial Regulation, showed how to recognize a foreclosure rescue scam and where to report it. Various county and city officials presented their respective Neighborhood Stabilization, SHIP Fund and Homeless prevention programs. Several HUD-approved housing counseling agencies explained their first-time homebuyers programs.

Information was shared about how the “Recovery Act” can help families save their homes from foreclosure, get loan modifications and avoid mortgage fraud. Several families shared stories and showed advertisements offering “Stop Foreclosure Now!” or “We Can Save Your Home. Guaranteed. Free Consultation” - statements commonly used in foreclosure rescue scams.

On Thursday, April 23, about 100 residents attended Wellington’s Foreclosure 911 Symposium to hear a panel and roundtable discussion from professionals in the fields of real estate, law and credit counseling. The featured speaker was Diedre Newton, who spoke about being a member of Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink’s Financial Literacy Council and its mission to enhance financial literacy in Florida.

After the panelists spoke, the group broke out into roundtables for consumers to hold personal discussions about the financial hardships they are currently facing. The event is the second to be held by the City of Wellington and the Palm Beach County Realtor’s Association.

Another Foreclosure 911 workshop is scheduled for Thursday, May 21, at 7 p.m. at the Wellington Community Center and will feature a representative from the Department of Financial Services who will discuss tips to avoid force-placed insurance and the CFO’s Foreclosure Housing Help initiative.

For more information and resources regarding foreclosures and a schedule of upcoming Florida Housing Help events, visit www.myfloridacfo.com/Florida Housing Help/.


New Web site helps military recover life insurance compensation

A new tool is available to help military personnel find out if they may be eligible for compensation from a 2006 multi-state regulatory settlement agreement over inappropriate life insurance sales practices that targeted the military. Approximately $2.3 million remains unclaimed under agreement.

More than 14,000 service member policyholders, or a named beneficiary, of a “Horizon Life” policy issued by American-Amicable Life Insurance Company of Texas or its two affiliates – Pioneer American Insurance Company and Pioneer Security Life Insurance Company – may be entitled to compensation and/or increased policy benefits.

The search tool has been provided by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners to help military personnel determine their eligibility for compensation and is available on the Department of Financial Services Web site at www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/needourhelp.htm.

.Policyholders who have been paid a death benefit or who have received a full refund are not eligible to receive compensation.


USF Students Have Lunch with CFO Sink as Part of Session Internship ProgramCFO Sink and USF interns at the Capitol

A select group of roughly a dozen students from the University of South Florida received unique work experience this spring by participating in a semester-long program at the Capitol. The students prepared by taking an intense ‘pre-session’ course about the history of Florida and the evolution of its government on campus in Tampa, and then headed to Tallahassee for full-time internships with associations, state lawmakers, and executive branch offices for the legislative session.

In the CFO’s office, Sabsina Karimi and CFO SinkUSF intern Sabsina Karimi assisted the legislative affairs department to help track legislation and analyze bills. “I witnessed session two years ago in bits and pieces, but never full time, and my internship this session was very eye-opening,” Sabsina said. “It amazes me to see the many different people involved in this process at all levels of government and the private sector, and it is also incredible how quickly everything moves during session and how bills can change in seconds.”

In addition to required writings as part of the coursework, students were invited to attend weekly lunch lectures with a special guest. This week, CFO Sink hosted the students in her conference room where she answered their questions about her work as Chief Financial Officer and also offered advice on starting out on a career path in government.

“I really enjoyed being in Tallahassee to observe the process and see first-hand how the legislature makes an impact on the daily lives of Floridians,” Sabsina said of her experience. She is graduating this weekend and plans to attend law school in the fall.


Financial Planning Association of Florida meets with CFO Sink

On April 28, representatives from the Financial Planning Association of Florida held meetings with officials from Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink's office, the Office of Financial Regulation and the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. FPA of Florida representatives were introduced to the House of Representatives during session.

In Tallahassee this week, from left to right: Jesse Goodson, Tallahassee; Greg Garrett, Tallahassee; Cathy Norris, Tampa; Claudia Sachs, Tallahassee; CFO Alex Sink; Paul Auslander, Orlando; Charlie Fitzgerald, Orlando; Allen Arntzen, Clearwater. Financial planners and CFO Sink


Detective Andy Redding and his K-9 Molly investigate a fire in MonticelloState Fire Marshal canines sniff out foul play

Specially trained dogs assist with arson investigations throughout Florida

When detectives in the Department of Financial Services’ Division of State Fire Marshal arrive on the scene of a fire, they often have help from a furry friend on hand to help sniff out the evidence.

Specially-trained canines – also referred to as “K-9’s” – are an essential part of investigations for the State Fire Marshal’s Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations. The Bureau has six accelerant canines throughout the state, as well as one explosive detection canine.

Detective Andy Redding and his K-9 Molly investigate a fire in Monticello. Photo Credit: Mike Ewen for the Tallahassee Democrat

State Fire Marshal badge

“Our specially trained accelerant canines are utilized to enhance the Bureau’s fire scene investigations through an increased ability to identify possible evidence of liquid accelerants,” said SFM Detective Andy Redding. “They also participate in the promotion of fire safety and prevention in the communities where they live,” Detective Redding continued.

Over time, the canines become more than just a partner in investigating crime and take on the traditional role of man’s best friend. “The canine is not only a partner to the handler; he is a part of my family,” said Detective Redding.


Staying healthy in the workplace

People around the world this week have been taking extra precautions due to the recent advancement of a new H1N1 influenza strain commonly referred to as the “swine flu.” While the Centers for Disease Control, the Florida Department of Health and health agencies around the world carefully monitor the flu, it’s important to follow preventative measures in your workplace that in general are best practices to promoting a healthy environment.

The first and most obvious precaution is to stay home from work when sick.  Avoiding contact with other people when you are ill and coughing or sneezing will reduce the spread of infection and recuperating at home may help you recover faster.  If you do have to sneeze or cough in the workplace, please be considerate and do so into a tissue, your shirt or your sleeve. Most importantly, wash your hands frequently. By washing your hands, and avoiding unnecessary contact with your eyes, nose, and mouth, you can drastically reduce or eliminate the risk of catching the flu.  If you think you have influenza, please take a moment to call your health care provider and discuss whether you need to be seen in their office or emergency department or stay home.

For more information about the flu and how to prevent it, please visit www.cdc.gov/swineflu.


Hurricane Season: Are you prepared?The Weekly Hurricane Financial Checklist

June 1 marks the beginning of hurricane season. Many consumers have reviewed their homeowners, flood, or renters insurance policies and contacted their agent to ensure their coverage amounts, limits and deductibles are current.

But many consumers may wonder what else they need to do to get ready for hurricane season? Being prepared for a storm, or even several storms, may be overwhelming for some. That’s why we will be offering weekly tips through the month of May to help you get organized and prepare for hurricane season – one step at a time.

This week, take the following steps to be ready for hurricane season:

Check back with us next week for more ideas.


My Family CFO

Are you the chief financial officer of your family? Are you always looking out for the best deals, wise investments and smart moves for your family's financial security?

As your family's fiscal watch dog, keep an eye on this column for money-smart ideas from the Chief Financial Officer of Florida, Alex Sink.

If you have a creative way to be fiscally smart, share it with us for this column!

MyFamilyCFO@MyFloridaCFO.com

Idea: Beware of unscrupulous lenders

An important aspect of making smart financial decisions is making sure you borrow responsibly.

If you are considering taking out a loan or feel you are in a situation to borrow money, first consider the purpose of a loan. Unless an investment will appreciate in value – like with an education, home, or business – it is recommended that you do not take out a loan. Also, if your bank or credit union denies your loan request, this may be because it is not a good idea financially for you to borrow money.

However, in this difficult economy, it is also important to be wary of unscrupulous agents who may take advantage of you in what’s commonly referred to as “predatory lending.”National Association of Consumer Advocates Predatory lending is the practice of charging excessive fees, creating payment agreements that are damaging to the borrower’s best interests, using aggressive tactics and making false claims to target the unsuspecting.

Remember the old adage that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is? Keep that expression in mind with loan offers, and be especially cautious in the following situations:

If your finances are out of your control, try to steer clear of these predatory lending schemes and instead find a credit counseling agency in your local area to help you get back on the right financial track.


Saving energy, saving money Energy tips for Florida families - these actions represent ways to behave kindly toward Mother Earth, AND save money as well as energy. These tips are presented by CFO Alex Sink's science advisor Meg Lowman, Ph.D., on the faculty at New College of Florida. Dr. Lowman has written numerous award-winning books and is an expert on the rainforests of the world.

Reducing the Heat Island Effect in our Neighborhoods

Many cities and suburbs are actually warmer than the surrounding countryside. This is called the “heat island effect” and results when humans uses dark paint or materials for construction. Dark artificial surfaces – roads, rooftops, parking lots – actually absorb more heat than lighter colors such as forests or fields of snow. When cities expand, surrounding expanses of fields and forests (usually light green in spring, tan from dead leaves in the fall, or white when snow-covered during northern winters) are replaced with black parking lots, dark road surfaces, and dark-tiled roofs. This ultimately raises the temperature of the city as compared to the country.

Albedo is the technical term used to describe the variable levels of sunlight that different materials reflect. Rising temperatures throughout the planet have significantly increased the heat island effect in many cities. In turn, hotter conditions where people live lead to more expensive air conditioning costs, greater wear and tear on automobile tires, increased heatstroke and related health problems, and other costs incurred to combat the heat. The “albedo effect” is the scientific phenomena calculated when temperature changes occur due to different surfaces absorbing or reflecting variable amounts of heat.

You can minimize the albedo effect of your landscape and home by using lighter colors for artificial surfaces. By avoiding dark colors for roofing material, driveway surfaces, pavers, and road bitumen, more heat will be reflected away from your living environment. Even cars make a difference – a black car sitting in a parking lot on a summer day is hotter than a white car and will use more air conditioning to cool down, simply because black absorbs heat while white reflects heat. In a warm climate such as Florida, citizens as well as regional governments can save money by keeping cool with the appropriate applications of the Albedo effect.