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FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 1, Number 44, November 1, 2004     

It seems like just yesterday the world’s eyes were on our state to determine who the next President of the United States would be.  The election of 2000 proved that, if nothing else, every vote counts.  It is important to keep this in mind as we head into this year’s election. 

I believe we live in the greatest state and the greatest country in the world.  As Americans, we enjoy a privilege, endowed to us by our forefathers, which few other nations enjoy:  The ability to freely elect our leaders.  This is a responsibility that is of the utmost importance. 

In the heat of campaign season, we oftentimes get caught up in the maze of political ads, 24-hour news coverage and endless polling data.  We should not lose sight of how lucky we are to be citizens of a free country that allows us to choose our leaders.  To me the essence of an election year is citizens’ coming together peacefully to decide who will represent them on a local, national, and international stage.   

Democracy is spreading rapidly throughout the globe and America is a model for emerging societies in transition.  In order for that model to be effective, it is vital that we participate.  I encourage everyone who is registered to vote to exercise your right. 

The future of this state and of this great nation is in your hands.  I encourage you to not be a passive bystander.  You have a voice that deserves to be heard, and the best way to get people to listen is to participate in the democratic process.  Let’s show the rest of the world what a powerful force democracy can be by fulfilling our responsibility as Americans and casting a ballot on Election Day.

                        -- Tom Gallagher


GOVERNOR, CABINET IMPOSE DEADLINES FOR INSURANCE COMPANIES TO HANDLE CLAIMS

Governor Jeb Bush and members of Florida’s Cabinet approved an emergency rule placing deadlines for insurance companies to assess, process and settle hurricane claims. Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who serves as a member of the state cabinet, commended his fellow members for taking steps to protect Florida’s insurance consumers.

“Floridians who responsibly purchase insurance and pay premiums expect service,” said Gallagher. “Firm deadlines will give thousands of Floridians peace of mind in getting their storm claims handled and set a goal that insurance companies must meet.”

Gallagher requested the emergency rule in response to numerous calls to the department’s hurricane hotline at 1-800-22-STORM from storm victims who have yet to see an adjuster or are waiting for an adjuster to return to do a damage assessment.

The emergency rule sets strict timeframes for insurance companies to make initial damage assessments, process and settle claims, including paying additional living expenses to Floridians unable to remain in their homes due to storm damage:
  • For claims filed by October 21 as a result of Tropical Storm Bonnie, Hurricane Charley or Hurricane Frances, the deadline is November 22.
  • For claims filed by November 8 as result of Hurricane Ivan or Hurricane Jeanne, the deadline is December 8.

According to Gallagher, insurance companies who fail to meet the deadlines face an administrative penalty of $2,500 per claim, per day.

Currently, insured losses due to the four back-to-back hurricanes have been estimated at $17.1 billion collectively. More than 1.3 million claims have been filed to date.

A copy of the emergency rule is available and can be found at
http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/pressoffice/Documents/102604emergencyrule.pdf.


GALLAGHER HONORS STATE FIRE MARSHAL’S OFFICE DIRECTOR FOR SUCCESS IN PASSING FIREFIGHTER SAFETY

The State Fire Marshal’s Office has many functions – from determining the cause of suspicious fires to developing state fire codes to overseeing the firefighting and rescue missions at the state’s Emergency Operations Center.  In all that the office does, the primary goal is to protect Floridians, including those who answer the call to protect and serve. 

At today’s meeting of the Florida Cabinet, Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who also serves as Florida’s State Fire Marshal, recognized Rand Napoli, Director of the State Fire Marshal’s Office, for securing agreement on critical new rules to protect Florida’s firefighters.   Last week, the Florida Professional Firefighters’ Association also gave Napoli “The Firefighters’ Hero Award.”    

“When it came to rulemaking to implement the Florida Firefighters Occupational Safety and Health Act, Mr. Napoli gained consensus among different constituent groups with competing concerns,” Gallagher said.  “Today, Florida has some of the strongest protections in the nation for firefighters.”

Among the significant requirements in the rules, which took effect last month:

  • Requires firefighters involved in structural firefighting to have a minimum of two firefighters inside and two firefighters outside to ensure safety.

  • Requires fire departments to have a Comprehensive Firefighter Safety and Health plan with  “fail safe” steps to ensure all parties involved cooperate in resolving safety issues.

  • Requires training commensurate to duties performed. Allows firefighters to file anonymous complaints with the State Fire Marshal’s Office.

  • Requires firefighters to follow safety procedures. 


"It is a wonderful honor to be recognized by the Cabinet, but this honor is shared with the many members of the State Fire Marshal’s Office who made the process successful,” Napoli said.  “Their efforts and the work of many fire departments and law enforcement agencies around the state were critical to the implementation of these rules.”   

Gallagher appointed Napoli, who has more than 33 years of operational and administrative experience in fire and rescue services, to the position of director in 2001. 


STATE-REQUIRED REFUND PLAN NETS $1.7 MILLION

TALLAHASSEE-Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher today announced that more than 1,200 Central Florida residents have received a total of $1.7 million under a refund plan for consumers who paid for various insurance products without their knowledge, during the purchase of an automobile.

“Floridians shopping for a car deserve to be treated fairly and dealt with honestly,” Gallagher said. “Our goal in pursuing a refund program was to make affected car-buyers whole financially and ensure the dealerships were no longer engaging in abusive sales practices.”

The Department of Financial Services, which Gallagher oversees, recently completed a two-year investigation of two Clearwater-based dealerships (Clearwater Mitsubishi and Clearwater Toyota, U.S. Hwy 19 N), which resulted in the refund program and a corrective action plan being ordered by the department. Sonic Automotive Inc., which purchased the dealerships, agreed to work with the department to quickly implement the refund program.

Department investigators discovered that sales personnel at the two dealerships added ancillary insurance products, such as vehicle service agreements, scheduled maintenance plans, gap protection plans and vehicle VIN etch glass protection, to sales contracts without the customer’s knowledge. In some cases, customers were asked to sign blank applications for these products but were told there was no charge. Others never knew they purchased these plans, in which case they would not utilize any benefits.

According to Gallagher, refunds were ordered for affected consumers who purchased vehicles from the above two dealerships between April 1998 and March 2002.

“So many people buy a car without really knowing what they’re purchasing,” said Joann Kennedy of Seminole, who received a refund of more than $4,000 for products she did not know she paid for. “I’m grateful the state looked into these abuses and helped get my money back.”

In addition, department investigators found that consumers were sold insurance products from an insurer not authorized to offer the products. As part of the corrective action plan, the dealerships were required to ensure that all insurance products offered are from insurers holding appropriate Florida licenses. “I was never told there was a separate cost for add-ons to my vehicle,” said Clearwater resident Michael Ladrique of a 1998 Mitsubishi he purchased.

More than 1,200 consumers received refunds for the previously listed products totaling more than $1.7 million. As part of the refund program, Sonic also implemented a corrective action plan for the dealerships, including:
  • Provide customers who are offered an insurance product a copy of department-approved product forms and require customers to sign only completed forms. Sonic must also retain a copy of executed forms.
  • Ensure that all insurance products offered to consumers are from insurers holding valid Florida licenses.
  • Ensure that each dealership selling insurance products is properly licensed as required by Florida law.
    “I was never told there was a separate cost for add-ons to my vehicle,” said Clearwater resident Michael Ladrique of a 1998 Mitsubishi he purchased.

     

Another consumer, a Tampa resident, was completely unaware more than a thousand dollars in extra costs were added to the price of her vehicle. Her refund was for more than $1,500.

Some of these abuses were first reported to the department by investigative reporter Mark Douglas, WFLA-TV in Tampa.

Further investigations were conducted to confirm the company’s compliance. The department also conducted an investigation of another Sonic-owned dealership, but similar practices were not found.


CHILDREN OF FALLEN SOLDIERS RECEIVE COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIPS

During a ceremony at the United States Southern Command headquarters in Miami, 24 college scholarships were presented to the children of Florida service men and women who lost their lives while bravely fighting in Iraq.  The scholarships were provided through the Florida Prepaid College Foundation Board.

Each child received a four-year university tuition plan, four-year university local fee plan and one-year dormitory plan.  Joining Florida Prepaid College Foundation Chairman Stanley G. Tate in honoring Florida’s fallen soldiers, their families and their children were Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher and General James Hill, Commander, U.S. Southern Command.

“Rebuilding lives after losing a loved one takes courage and support from others,” said Gallagher. “These scholarships will help offset the cost of higher education for the children and spouses of Florida service men and women who bravely risked their lives and died fighting for freedom.”
 

In Memory

Petty Officer Michael Anderson
Petty Officer Nathan Bruckenthal
Petty Officer Trace Dossett
Captain Daniel W. Eggers
Petty Officer Ronald Ginther
SFC Curtis Mancini
Sgt. Arthur Mastrapa
Spc. Robert D. Roberts
Staff Sgt. Wentz Shannaberger
CWO Aaron Weaver
Sgt. Roy Wood
Sgt. Pamela Osbourne


When the children are ready for college, their scholarship will cover the actual cost at any of Florida’s 11 public universities or 28 community colleges, or the value of their scholarship may be transferred to most private colleges in Florida, select technical schools and most out-of-state colleges.

The Florida Prepaid College Foundation is the charitable direct support organization for the Florida Prepaid College Board, which manages the Florida Prepaid College Plan and the new Florida College Investment Plan.


OFFICE OF INSURANCE REGULATION DISAPPROVES WORKERS' COMP RATES

Florida Commissioner of Insurance Regulation Kevin McCarty disapproved the latest workers’ compensation rate filing because the decrease in rates was not enough.  McCarty ordered the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) to re-file rates that reflect a larger rate decrease.  

McCarty said that while NCCI does fine work, “I disagree with how they assessed parts of this filing.  The reforms passed by the Legislature have reduced the high rates Florida’s businesses pay to protect their employees.  I have to make sure all savings and costs are properly reflected in this filing, and I just do not believe they have been, ” McCarty said.    CONTINUED

NCCI had proposed an overall statewide average decrease in premiums of 0.9% in a September 15, 2004 amendment to the filing.  This was down from a 2.2% decrease that NCCI had initially filed for rates on new and renewal business beginning January 1, 2005.  A public hearing was held October 5th to allow interested parties to testify on the filing. 

In his order, McCarty said he would approve a revised filing with an overall statewide premium reduction of 5.1% and with an overall statewide premium drop of 11.8% for contractors.  Among the reasons the filing was disapproved were disagreements with the supporting documents; with the loss trend calculations and with the filing’s reinsurance provisions.  McCarty ordered the amendments to the filing be made as soon as is practicable.     

Senate Bill 50A was passed by the 2002 Legislature.  The bill ordered substantial reforms to Florida’s workers’ compensation system.  At the time Gov. Jeb Bush signed the bill into law, Florida’s employers were paying amongst the highest premiums in the nation while the state’s workers received amongst the lowest benefits.  McCarty’s order for the 5% reduction would be in addition to a 14% reduction that became effective on October 1, 2003. 



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