Volume 7 Number 18 April 30, 2010
As this year’s legislative session draws to a close, I want you to know that I’ve been fighting for you — Florida’s seniors, firefighters, students, teachers, and taxpayers. By taking a bi-partisan, businesslike approach, I was able to help pass cost-saving and contracting reforms, saving you money and holding government more accountable. And after three years of fighting special interests, the Florida Legislature finally passed my Safeguard Our Seniors legislation, better protecting seniors from scammers.
While there is still work to do, and ideas from this session I stood up to oppose, I am proud of the changes we were able to accomplish.
State of Florida
Florida CFO Alex Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors legislation passed the Florida Legislature on Friday, strengthening senior investor fraud laws. CFO Sink proposed the legislation for the third straight year after hearing hundreds of heartbreaking stories from seniors who had been defrauded by senior scammers, many losing their life savings.
“I commend the Florida Senate, especially Senator Mike Bennett, who stood with me, tirelessly pursuing tougher safeguards for our seniors three years in a row,” said CFO Sink. “I’m disappointed that it took the Florida House this long, and that they were not willing to make “twisting” or “churning” an annuity to a senior a third-degree felony, but I applaud the leadership of Representative Maria Sachs for securing the remainder of these important safeguards.”
The Safeguard our Seniors Act, originally sponsored by Senator Mike Bennett and Representative Maria Sachs enacts the following safeguards:
CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services has held nearly 400 ‘Safeguard Our Seniors’ workshops throughout the state during the last two years to help seniors become better informed about how to protect themselves from financial fraud. The programs have helped Florida seniors recover nearly $11.2 million, and helped put some senior scammers behind bars.
To learn more about CFO Sink’s Safeguard Our Seniors Task Force, learn what to consider when purchasing annuities, or read the stories of senior victims, please visit www.flseniors.net. Floridians who believe they may have been the victim of annuity fraud should call (850) 413-3089 or toll-free at 1-877-My-FL-CFO (1-877- 693-5236) or log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com to file a complaint.
Florida CFO and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink on Friday commended the Florida Legislature for the passage of the Firefighter Death Benefits Bill, sponsored by Representative Darren Soto and Senator Carey Baker. The bill, which ensures that survivors of firefighters killed in training will receive death benefits, was pushed for by CFO Sink after hearing Kristen Curry's heartbreaking story as State Fire Marshal.
“The tragic death of Volusia County Firefighter John Curry reminded us of the very real danger facing our firefighters every day, including during training exercises,” said CFO Alex Sink. “I am glad the Florida Legislature is honoring Curry’s sacrifice, and allowing his widow and son to receive the benefits he earned so bravely. Curry is a hero to his son, his wife and through the passage of this bill, his legacy will be remembered forever.”
Survivors of firefighters who are killed during training exercises will now receive the same death benefits that that they would otherwise receive from a firefighters’ work-related death. John Curry was a Volusia County firefighter and is survived by his spouse, Kristen Curry, and a son, Owen Curry. Curry was killed while training with the Volusia County Fire Services Firewalker Team in 2007 when a dead pine tree fell on his back. Two days later, Volusia County sent a letter to his widow informing her that her family’s health benefits would be terminated.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Friday sent a letter to the Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change Carol Browner addressing the urgent need for continued coordination to protect Florida from the current disastrous oil spill that is threatening the state’s economy. CFO Sink also urged better prevention to insulate Florida from future spills originating in federal waters.
“With the threat to our state’s economic wellbeing, I am imploring the federal government to take every action possible to protect our beaches and our economy,” CFO Sink wrote. “I look forward to continuing to work with you and others in the administration to do whatever we can to lessen the disastrous impact of this current oil spill and to prevent future spills from occurring with more frequent inspections, greater accountability, and responsible decisions.” Read CFO Sink's letter.
On Thursday, CFO Sink responded to reports that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is five times larger than originally estimated:
“The massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is an increasing risk to Florida, with a potentially disastrous impact on our economy. On Thursday we learned from the U.S. Coast Guard that the amount of oil leaking into the water is five times worse than previously estimated and greater in size than Miami-Dade County.
“It’s imperative for Florida’s economy that there’s a highly coordinated state and federal cleanup effort. I expect to speak with Carol Browner, Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change, about protecting our state from oil spills in federal waters. Nothing is more important to Florida’s economy right now than keeping this oil off our beaches.
“This oil spill underscores how much of a threat the near-beach drilling proposals pushed by some in the Florida Legislature would be for Florida’s economy, and I will continue my long-standing fight against these misguided oil drilling proposals.”
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Friday commended the Florida Legislature for passing Senate Bill 2386, a contract reform and efficiency bill implementing several of CFO Sink’s recommendations to improve the state’s contracting procedures and increase efficiency. CFO Sink’s recommendations were based on contracting initiatives within her Department of Financial Services.
“These common sense reforms will provide for more accountability, and more transparency,” said CFO Sink. “Floridians deserve to get the best deal possible in the most efficient way, no different than how it works in the private sector— these reforms help push our state in a more businesslike direction.”
CFO Sink’s recommendations included in the bill:
CFO Sink’s Department of Financial Services has already implemented a number of contracting improvements including:
Florida CFO Alex Sink called State Board of Administration (SBA) reforms passed by the Florida Legislature on Friday long overdue, but also expressed concern that stronger oversight of Florida’s $112 billion pension fund was not included in the final bill.
“Although the Legislature has finally made the decision to put into law reforms that I have advocated for over the last two years, they failed to include what I have consistently said is the most meaningful reform – the expansion of the Board of Trustees to include people with financial experience and expertise,” said CFO Sink. “The buck stops with the Trustees and I believe that by not having the strongest oversight possible, we do a disservice to our police officers, firefighters, teachers and other state employees who entrust their retirement to our pension fund.”
The SBA Reform Bill House Bill 1307 includes many of the important recommendations that CFO Sink laid out more than two years ago at the start of the 2008 Legislative Session and entitled “Ten Proposals to Strengthen Safeguards over Florida Investments.” CFO Sink previously worked to enact many of the reforms passed today, such as required Quarterly Board Meetings for the current SBA trustees, and now these changes will be cemented into law for future Boards.
Reforms passed this session from CFO Sink’s Ten Point Plan include: ethics reforms for investment advisors, managers and members of the Investment Advisory Council, the creation of an audit committee to ensure annual independent audits of FRS financial statements, enhanced reporting at quarterly SBA Board meetings, and strengthening qualifications and performance measures for the SBA executive director.
On Tuesday, CFO Sink teamed up with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission for their “Creating the Next Generation that Cares” event in the Capitol courtyard, to promote outdoor safety for Florida’s youth.
The interactive event offered opportunities for young people and families to participate in outdoor activities and share experiences that strengthen connections with support for fish and wildlife conservation. Activities ranged from building bird nests, backyard bass casting, safe lifejacket use, and more. CFO Sink was pleased to meet with schoolchildren, FWC law enforcement officers, and even a Florida manatee.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Friday commended the Florida Legislature for unanimously passing legislation that implements recommendations made by CFO Sink to strengthen the state’s Risk Management program and reduce workers’ compensation costs to the state.
“This legislation holds state agencies accountable and emphasizes loss prevention,” said CFO Sink. “In the business world, it is accepted that you must inspect what you expect, and these program modifications allow us to do just that.”
In January, CFO Sink announced $12 million in taxpayer savings through businesslike reforms in CFO Sink’s Division of Risk Management, including refocusing on loss prevention and addressing agencies with the highest claims numbers. These reforms were based on business best practices and advice from private sector risk management experts and led to the creation of the CFO Sink’s Risk Management Advisory Council.
Based on CFO Sink’s recommendations, key elements of the legislation passed today (SB 2386) include:
Risk management is responsible for identifying and controlling exposure to loss or injury resulting from the daily operation of Florida’s government. Through the Florida Department of Financial Services, the Division of Risk Management delivers sound, professional guidance to Florida’s 48 state agencies and universities to help control loss and mitigate risk.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Monday announced the appointment of Harold M. Knowles to the Board of Governors for Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, effective April 21, 2010, through July 31, 2011. Citizens is one of the largest property and casualty insurance companies in the nation and the largest property insurer in Florida.
Knowles, 62, is the managing shareholder in Knowles & Randolph, the oldest African-American law firm in North Florida with offices in Tallahassee and Quincy.
“Harold is a principled, dedicated public servant, who brings a wealth of civic and private-sector experience to the Board,” said CFO Sink. “I’m grateful for his commitment to serve in the best interests of Florida’s insurance consumers.”
Mr. Knowles is admitted to practice before the Florida Supreme Court, the U.S. Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals, and the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. He has served as president of the Tallahassee Barristers Association, is a member of the National Bar Association and the Florida Bar's Real Property and Probate Law Section, as well as its Administrative Law Section. For the past ten years Mr. Knowles has been listed in the “Red Book,” a compendium of lawyers who are experts in the field of bond finance. He has served two terms on the Second Judicial Circuit Nominating Commission and one term on the Florida Bar Grievance Committee for the Second Circuit.
Knowles’ civic interests and leadership roles include serving on the Board of Directors of Capital City Bank, membership on the Tallahassee-Leon County Civic Center Authority, the Tallahassee Downtown Improvement Authority and the Northwest Florida Black Business Investment Board. In 1999 he was appointed by Governor Jeb Bush to serve on the State of Florida Lottery Commission; in 2001, he was appointed by Governor Bush to serve on the Florida Federal Judicial Nominating Commission and more recently, to the Board of Trustees of Florida State University.
He received his B.A. degree in 1969 from the Florida State University School of Government and his Juris Doctor in 1973 from the Florida State University College of Law. He and his wife Anne have one son, Clayton, who is a student at Florida State University College of Law.
Florida CFO Alex Sink on Monday released a letter sent to the Office of Insurance Regulation (OIR) Commissioner Kevin McCarty inquiring whether any additional actions may be necessary by OIR prior to hurricane season to ensure authorized property insurers are financially capable of meeting their obligations through the course of the 2010 hurricane season. Read the letter to Commissioner McCarty.
On Tuesday, CFO Sink met with the board of Volunteer Florida, which works to develop, promote and implement volunteerism and service throughout the state. CFO Sink spoke to the group about the economic importance of volunteers and non-profit organizations, as not-for-profits are the sixth largest employer in the state.
CFO Sink has a long history of volunteer service, and she also spoke about the positive lasting impacts that volunteering has on participants as well as the organizations they represent.
In conjunction with last week’s Florida Keys Day at the Capitol, CFO Sink was presented with a “Conch Award,” recognizing her to be an honorary citizen of the “Fabulous Florida Keys.”
The lighthearted award ceremony was arranged by Representative Ron Saunders, and was presented to CFO Sink by Rep. Saunder’s Legislative Aide, Holly Merrill Raschein, on CFO Sink's right, along with Colleen Repetto, on the left, who traveled to Tallahassee with the organization Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe (FIRM), a grassroots organization advocating for fair property insurance rates.
As the United States economy continues to recover, many recent graduates find themselves without employment and forced to move in with their parents. “Boomerangers” are young adults who are unable to financially support themselves, because layoffs and hiring freezes in this difficult economy are making it tough for young professionals to achieve financial stability.
With many young people returning home, boomerangers and their parents face important decisions about how to most cost effectively obtain insurance until they are on firm financial ground once again. The Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate offers the following information for parents and boomerangers about the potential insurance implications this new living situation may present.
A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that most boomerangers are between the ages of 18 and 34, and 13 percent of parents with grown children have had at least one grown child return home within the last year. College loans and unexpected job losses have led to the increase of young people living with their parents to help gain financial stability.
Living at home can pose many insurance coverage issues for parents and young people alike. Consumers should begin by reviewing their insurance policies to determine what their new coverage needs may be. There are some important coverage issues to consider to ensure that your insurance coverage adequately reflects any new living arrangements:
Any consumer who has any questions regarding insurance needs as a result of a new living situation should contact the Division of Consumer Services within the Department of Financial Services on-line at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/ or by phone at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236), toll-free in Florida, and (850) 413-3089 from out of state.
The Insurance Consumer Advocate is appointed by Florida CFO Alex Sink and is committed to finding solutions to insurance issues facing Floridians, calling attention to questionable insurance practices, promoting a viable insurance market responsive to the needs of Florida’s diverse population and assuring that rates are fair and justified.
If you’re considering a rental car for your summer vacation, don’t forget to check on the insurance. If you have an auto insurance policy, it’s possible it will extend to the rental car, so check your policy before you’re offered more coverage at the rental counter.
Do the following to make sure you are protected financially:
Rebecca Frey hasn’t been to a Florida Housing Help workshop. She didn’t have time. Her husband Todd lost his job and was then deployed to Iraq and before she knew it, she was receiving notices that their house was being foreclosed on. She has since been working with Terry Cerullo, CFO Sink’s outreach coordinator for the Fort Myers region, to understand all of her options.
“I was running out of time and all I know is that I had to do something about it,” said Rebecca Frey, wife and mother of three.
Rebecca says that after months of tearful nights and hours on the phone with her lender, the mortgage holder is now going to work with her on a mortgage modification.
“I am believing in their word and having faith that they will do what they say they will do,” said Frey.
Frey’s husband, Todd, was laid off from his job 10 months before his deployment and found a hard time finding work because the company that laid him off had a non-compete clause in his contract that would allow them to come after any income Todd earned.
“Although we are grateful for the modification we have right now, Todd still has to find work when he comes home, and we are keeping faith that the doors open at the right time and we can continue to keep the roof we have over our head.”
Rebecca says she wishes she would have known about CFO Sink’s Florida Housing Help event’s and encourages people who are in situations like hers to attend.
“You have to keep fighting and never give up looking for answers,” said Frey. “Go to events like this and ask questions and get as much help as you can. Keep fighting. It is worth it.”
For more information on housing help visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/FloridaHousingHelp.
Monday, May 17, 2010, The University Area Community Development Center, 14013 North 22nd Street, Tampa 33613 5:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Saturday, May 22, 2010, Central Florida Community College – Ewers Century Center, 3001 SW College Road, Ocala, FL 34474 10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
For more workshops that include community partners and resources and offer great information for citizens, visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/OutReach/EventsbyCategory.asp.
To start saving, scrutinize your current lunch budget by keeping your receipts. Surprise! Eating out can add up to a lot of money quickly, along with calories, fat and unknown additives. Here are some ideas for putting your lunch budget on a diet.
Consider splitting an entree with a lunch buddy – A serving can often be too much food for one. Another option is the doggy bag to bring what's left back for lunch the next day. Order water instead of a drink - it’s better for you and beverages are a profit center for restaurants and often have a considerable markup.
Bring your lunch from home. Get in the habit of cutting up more raw vegetables than you need for dinner, bag and bring the rest for lunch. Heat up leftover dinner in the microwave and stock up on non-perishables for the days when you haven't planned ahead. Popcorn is an office favorite for an afternoon snack and easy to share.
Go to the supermarket if you forgot to bring your lunch instead of a fancy cafe. Your dollar will buy a lot more.
Cook lunch with friends. Make soups and entrees in bulk then freeze in individual containers. Cook together for this purpose often and rotate the fun from home to home.
When watching your budget for lunch, it becomes easier to watch your calories and eat healthier in general. Consider a low-fat vegan/vegetarian diet to lose weight, lower cholesterol and save money.
Every day, hundreds of Floridians fall victim to financial fraud. Many of these victims are trusting seniors who were misled into making risky or inappropriate financial investments including annuities and reverse mortgages by unscrupulous agents and scam artists. In response, CFO Sink created the Safeguard Our Seniors Task Force to develop solutions to better protect Florida seniors from falling victim to financial fraud.
The Department of Financial Services offers these Safeguard Our Seniors events so that you can learn how to guard against fraud and scams targeting seniors.
Thursday, May 6, 2010, Sensational Seniors May Celebration - Safeguard Our Seniors, North Colliers Regional Park, 1500 Livingston Rd. Naples, FL 34109 10:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010, Safeguard Our Seniors, Lake Eustis Institute, 127 N. Grove Street, Eustis, FL 32727 2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Tuesday, May 11, 2010, Safeguard Our Seniors, Gulf Coast Village Retirement Community, 1333 Santa Barbara Blvd., Cape Coral, FL 33991 1:30 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Wednesday, May 12, 2010, Safeguard Our Seniors, Whistle Junction Restaurant, 1854 S. Ridgewood Ave., S. Daytona, FL 32119 11:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.
Did you know that trees planted in America over the past few decades live an average of only nine years? Many trees are cut down for road-widening, development or agricultural needs. But given time to mature, trees are important to saving energy and keeping our planet healthy.
A single mature tree can absorb about 48 pounds of greenhouse gases per year, retains approximately 1000 gallons of water in the soil that would otherwise enter our storm water drainage systems and provides enough oxygen for two people to breathe all year long. Shade from the sun, soil retention and natural beauty are gifts trees give us in Florida.
Trees provide an amazing service to Florida's environment and do not require expensive maintenance - just sunlight, carbon dioxide and an occasional watering. In a sense, trees do best if left alone.
Started in 1872, Arbor Day is celebrated nationally on the last Friday in April. Florida celebrates Arbor Day on the third Friday in January and last year nearly 200,000 trees were planted. Join forces with a community civic group, your school, church or neighborhood to plant trees, creating a great insurance policy for the health of our planet. A tree's ability to absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen is nothing short of miraculous.
Plant trees in areas that need them and stir up enthusiasm to create canopy shade throughout your community. Teach children about the natural world around them, creating a love of nature and the earth’s next generation of tree planters and environmental stewards.
The Florida Chapter of The International Society of Arboriculture, a non-profit organization, is committed to serving the needs of Florida's professional arborists and tree-care consumers. Trees Are Cool license plate revenues benefit the Florida urban tree environment through tree research, scholarships and ongoing education of tree-care practitioners and by providing public education programs about tree care and preservation. Learn more at www.TreesAreCool.com.