Volume 3 Number 10
March 6, 2006

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This week the members of the Florida Legislature return to Tallahassee for the annual two-month legislative session.  Even after more than 30 years in public service I feel the same energy in the Capitol as the session approaches that I felt as a new legislator.  

Our legislature once again has the ability to make decisions that can improve the lives of Floridians.  Our state senators and representatives can reform our legal system, protect our small businesses, and enact tax cuts to allow us to keep more of our hard-earned money and boost Florida’s economy.  

The prediction of more active hurricane seasons in coming years continues to threaten our insurance markets, and my hurricane insurance proposals will be included in the debate. Comprehensive reforms are needed to better protect homeowners, strengthen the property insurance market, provide rate relief, and ensure greater accountability of Citizens Property Insurance Corporation.

The Legislature is considering legislation to better protect our law enforcement officers and innocent children from the growing menace of meth which is tearing at the fabric of our communities and spreading at an alarming rate.

Building on legislative reforms enacted over the last five years, more policy changes are being pursued this year to combat the costly crime of Personal Injury Protection (PIP) fraud. Florida law requires motorists to carry a minimum of $10,000 in PIP coverage, regardless of who is at fault.  PIP benefits, over the years, have become the target of fraud schemes by unscrupulous citizens, costing Florida families as much as $240 a year in additional premiums.   

The debate will be lively in the next two months.  I encourage you to speak up on issues of importance to you by contacting your legislators in Tallahassee. We will each be impacted by the decisions made, and we each have the opportunity to help influence the decision-making.


Benefits of Catastrophe Savings Accounts:

Encourages people to be responsible and save for future adverse financial impacts associated with a disaster

Allows the balance to accumulate tax-free and with interest

Gives consumers the option of purchasing higher deductible policies resulting in lower annual premiums

Ensures that expenditures associated with uninsured losses will be tax-free

Encourages homeowners to make structural improvements to their homes TO MITIGATE DISASTER DAMAGE

GALLAGHER ANNOUNCES FEDERAL LEGISLATION TO CREATE CATASTROPHE SAVINGS ACCOUNTS

Gallagher has been promoting accounts since 2004 hurricane season

Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, announced today that Congressman Tom Feeney from Orlando has filed federal legislation to create Catastrophe Savings Accounts (CSAs) that would give homeowners in Florida, and across the country, the opportunity to put money aside tax-free to financially prepare for major catastrophes.  

“Floridians deserve the opportunity to protect themselves against the financial devastation inflicted by hurricanes and other catastrophic events,” said Gallagher, who first initiated the idea with the Florida Legislature last year.  “These accounts are a common-sense approach to encourage preparedness and personal responsibility and give Floridians the incentive they need to financially prepare for catastrophes.  I support Congressman Feeney for his leadership in Congress on behalf of Floridians, and I pledge to continue working with him to make CSAs a reality.”
CONTINUED


 

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LEGISLATIVE SUPPORT FOR RATE RELIEF BUILDING

Florida Senator Mike Fasano added his name to the growing list of legislators who support Tom Gallagher’s plan for immediate insurance rate-relief. Senator Fasano publicly expressed support for earmarking surplus sales tax revenue to offset insurance assessments during a Town Hall meeting he hosted with the Department of Financial Services. Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, who was also on hand to assist homeowners and discuss insurance concerns, issued the following statement: 

 “I am extremely pleased to learn that another legislator has offered public support for my proposal to refund surplus tax revenue to Florida’s homeowners. I believe our record budget surplus can effectively fund all of Florida’s priorities, and still leave enough to provide sensible insurance rate-relief to Florida’s families.

 “I will continue to ask the Legislature to use surplus tax revenue derived from hurricane reconstruction costs to provide rate-relief for all Floridians. That money, which belongs to the taxpayers in the first place, is the first step in helping Floridians deal with insurance assessments, hurricane repairs, or hurricane preparation for this year’s season.”

Gallagher’s proposal is part of a comprehensive package of insurance reforms he announced last November to provide immediate rate-relief, expand access to property coverage, stabilize insurance rates and expedite the rebuilding process.


 

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TAMARAC BUSINESSMAN, HIS SON AND FRIENDS CHARGED WITH ARSON

A businessman, his son, and two of his son’s friends are facing arson charges after detectives with the State Fire Marshal’s Office determined they colluded to burn down the father’s dry cleaning business in order to collect on insurance.

Scott Zanger, 50, owner of Professional Dry Cleaners, at 4245 W. Commercial Blvd., his son James, 22, and Joseph Simpson and Sean Bellot, both 23, were charged in the Nov. 25 fire that destroyed the business while adjacent businesses sustained smoke and water damage. The arrests last week stem from an investigation by the State Fire Marshal’s Office, Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, and the Broward County Sheriff’s Office.

“Arson kills or injures hundreds of Floridians every year,” said Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, who also serves as state fire marshal. “Thankfully, no one was injured in this fire but these men must be held accountable for their actions.”

If convicted, the men could each face up to 15 years in prison in addition to fines and restitution.

Detectives said Scott Zanger plotted the arson as a means to bail out of a failing business. The investigation determined that the elder Zanger left town knowing that his son and his friends were going to set the business on fire. Detectives said the fire was started in the early morning hours of Nov. 25 when someone stacked clothes in a pile, doused the piles with lighter fluid and struck a match.

Arson detectives estimated the damage at nearly $400,000.


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MEDIATION TO RESOLVE INSURANCE DISPUTES AVAILABLE TO 2005 STORM VICTIMS

Tom Gallagher, Florida’s chief financial officer, would like Floridians to know that mediation is available to homeowners who suffered damage from the 2005 hurricanes and have not been able settle their insurance claims.  The program is free to policyholders and seeks to achieve quick and fair settlements for storm victims. 

“My number one priority continues to be helping Floridians recover from two unprecedented hurricane seasons,” Gallagher said. “This program has proven results in helping families recover from the 2004 storm season, and I know it will help thousands more still seeking assistance after the 2005 storms.”

Gallagher initiated the mediation program in the aftermath of multiple hurricanes in 2004. Of 12,000 requests for mediation, 93 percent were settled successfully. CONTINUED


 

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TAKING THE MYSTERY OUT OF RETIREMENT PLANNING

 

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MORE RESOURCES FOR RETIREMENT Planning

Living longer, healthier, and more active lives than ever before, Americans need to have a financial plan. The retirement years are a time for pursuing new interests such as hobbies, travel, volunteering in the community or starting a new career. To ensure a financially secure retirement, the right choices should be made years ahead.

Advance planning is the way to secure a comfortable retirement. According to a recent survey, fewer than half of Americans have figured out how much they will need to save for retirement, much less implementing the plan. For many of us it is time to get started.

At the retirement point in life, you deserve to enjoy all that you have created for yourself and your family. On the Senior Resource Center website, we have pulled together information that can help you make smart choices and protect yourself and those you love.

The site at www.flseniors.net was designed with seniors, their families and those who care for them in mind.

Read Taking the Mystery Out of Retirement Planning from the U.S. Department of Labor for a useful guide to retirement pre-planning at http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/publications/NRTOC.html.  The information is valuable to everyone, but it is specifically geared to those who are about ten years from retirement.


 

 

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Florida cities continue to lead the nation in job growth

The Milken Institute’s Best Performing Cities Index ranked six Florida metropolitan areas among America’s top ten for creating jobs. The independent economic think-tank ranked 379 metropolitan areas based on their ability to create and sustain jobs. 

Florida’s metropolitan areas hold the Index’s top three slots, as well five of its top six and 12 of its top 30.  The Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville area ranked first place on Milken’s Index, followed by the Cape Coral-Fort Myers and Naples-Marco Island areas. 

Florida continues to lead the country in the number of new jobs created and has the fastest rate of annual job growth among the ten most populous states.  Florida’s unemployment rate is 3.3 percent – the lowest in nearly three decades.  Since 1999, Florida’s economy has created more than 1.15 million jobs.

According to statistics provided by the Agency for Workforce Innovation, from December 2004 to December 2005, Florida added 248,100 new jobs, seasonally adjusted.

Florida’s December 2005 unemployment rate was 3.3 percent, 1.6 percentage points below the national rate of 4.9 percent and Florida’s unemployment rate is the lowest recorded in the history of the current methodology, which began in 1976. 

For more information on the Milken Institute Index, please visit www.milkeninstitute.org. 


 

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FILING AN IDENTITY THEFT POLICE REPORT CAN SAVE YOU MONEY

More than 60 percent of the people who reported being victimized by identity theft last year did not notify their local law enforcement agency. One reason for this surprising statistic, recently released in a Federal Trade Commission report on 2005 identity theft complaints, is that many states have not enacted laws requiring law enforcement agencies to take a police report and investigate the crime.

The most common type of identity theft is financial, in which the victim’s information is used to get access to credit or bank accounts. When this happens, the first steps for the victim to take are contacting creditors on fraudulent accounts, contacting the credit bureaus to place a “fraud alert” on credit files, and reporting the facts to the police. Filing a police report of identity theft is critical, as copies of the report are needed to clear up the damage done by the thief.