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FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 3, Number 27, July 3, 2006
 

The Fourth of July holiday is upon us, and many of us will gather with family and friends to celebrate.

I wish you all a wonderful holiday and urge you to celebrate safely.

Please remember that fireworks – anything that launches or explodes – are illegal.  Hundreds of Americans are injured every year by fireworks, and half or more of those injuries are to children.  Don’t let a disaster ruin your holiday.  Instead, join your neighbors at a professional fireworks display in your community, or enjoy any of the hundreds of sparklers that are legal to use in Florida.  A list of legal sparklers is available on our website at www.MyFloridaCFO.com/sfm.

Amidst the celebration, let us remember the reason for the holiday.  We are celebrating the birth of our independence and the great democracy we have created.

Let’s pray for our troops who are bravely fighting to maintain our independence and to provide the same opportunities to others around the world, and let us honor all of those who serve and have served to keep this country free, as well as the families and loved ones who support our troops. 

Sir Winston Churchill said, “All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom; justice; honor; duty; mercy; hope.”                        

These words express what makes our country free, but it is the people who live these words that make our country great.

-- Tom Gallagher



HURRICANE CLAIMS MEDIATION PROGRAM UPDATE


More than 95 percent of the 2.7 million hurricane claims filed as a result of the last two years’ storms have been settled, according to Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, in an update on the progress of the Department of Financial Services’ hurricane mediation program.

"Florida has come a long way in recovering from two unbelievable hurricane seasons,” said Gallagher, who oversees the department. 

Gallagher initiated the free mediation program following the 2004 storms to provide a dispute-resolution process for homeowners who need help resolving hurricane claims to avoid more costly options, such as going to court.   Court-certified mediators provided through the Collins Center for Public Policy are facilitating the hearings.

Over the last two years, more than 17,000 Floridians have requested a mediation hearing.  Of those, 15,154 cases have been closed, resulting in settlements, partial settlements and pre-settlements in a majority of the cases, with the settlement rate at 91 percent. Another 1,298 cases are scheduled for mediation, and 616 are in the process of being scheduled. 

Gallagher initiated a similar mediation program as insurance commissioner during the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew in 1992, and he said the current mediation program is working as he expected. 

For help with a hurricane claim or to request a mediation hearing, call 1-800-22-STORM.
 
 

2006 ESSAY CONTEST WINNERS

The following 15 students in five regions were the top picks in an essay contest aimed at encouraging financial education among middle and high school students.   

The contest, “Cash in on Your Money Smarts,” asked students, ages 14 to 18, to submit at least a 750-word essay answering the question: "If you had $100,000 to invest, what would you invest in and why?"

The contest offered students more than $7,500 in prizes statewide.  First, second and third place prizes have been awarded to teens in given geographic regions, for a total of 15 winners statewide.  Nearly 900 students participated this year. 

The essay contest was a great way to encourage Florida’s young people to show off their financial knowledge and writing skills, and reward them for it. Learning these valuable skills now will pave the way for a lifetime of financial success.

The fifteen winners named represent the five regions that competed in the contest.

In Region 1 the winners are:

First Place: Douglas Chico, 15,  Florida High University School, Tallahassee
Second Place: Justine Gunderson, 16, Lincoln High School, Tallahassee
Third Place: Candice Baugh
, 15,  Crestview High School, Crestview

In Region 2 the winners are:

First Place: Rachel Christian, 18, Home-schooled, Fernandina Beach
Second Place: Alex Whipple, 17, Middleburg High School, Orange Park
Third Place: 
Bryan Cowan
, 17, Bartram Trail High School, Jacksonville

In Region 3 the winners are:

First Place: Han Zhu, 16, St. Petersburg Senior High School, Largo
Second Place: Francesca Nutt, 17, J.W. Mitchell High School, Holiday
Third Place: Jared Moody
, 17,  Palm Harbor University, Palm Harbor

 In Region 4 the winners are:

First Place: Anthony Marchante, 17, Boone High School, Orlando
Second Place: Maggie David, 16, Vanguard High School, Ocala
Third Place: Junior Nashan Kemraj
, 17, Boone High School, Orlando

In Region 5 the winners are:

First Place: Brian Bonomi, 16, Home-schooled, Cooper City
Second Place: Travis Engebretsen, 17, Hobe Sound Christian Academy, Stuart
Third Place: Amanda Olmstead, 18, Summit Christian School, Lake Worth

Click on the names to read the essays.

First, second and third place winners received $750, $500 and $250 respectively.

The essay contest is part of our statewide public education initiative, Your Money, Your Life, which is designed to help Floridians stretch limited budgets, avoid debt and build assets, including savings and home ownership.  The program was started in 2004 in response to a recent survey reporting that many Floridians put themselves at financial risk by waiting too late to save and by running up debt.  The program includes a comprehensive educational website available at www.yourmoneyyourlife.org.

Financial support for the “Cash in on Your Money Smarts” essay contest is provided by a grant from the Investor Protection Trust (IPT).  The IPT is a nonprofit organization devoted to investor education. Since 1993, the IPT has worked with the States to provide the independent, objective investor education needed by all Americans to make informed investment decisions. Their website is www.investorprotection.org. 
 


NAIC COMMENDS FLOOD INSURANCE REFORM

U.S. House of Representatives Passes Bill to Modernize The National Flood Insurance Program

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) commends the U.S. House of Representatives for passing H.R. 4973, the Flood Insurance Reform and Modernization Act of 2006. 

Likewise, Rep. Richard Baker (R-LA) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA) are to be commended for their leadership in sponsoring the bill that reforms the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP). The NFIP is an important component of the government’s response to natural catastrophes, and the NAIC appreciates the leadership of Rep. Baker guiding this legislation that will help provide funding to pay outstanding claims stemming from the 2005 hurricane season, as well as modernize the program to address problems with how it is structured. 

The NAIC also commends the inclusion of state-sponsored, non-binding mediation in the bill, an effort driven by Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL) and Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite (R-FL).  Non-binding mediation offers policyholders a proven and cost-effective solution to resolve cases involving various insurers and the NFIP. 

Insurance companies and policyholders have a strong self-interest in settling claims quickly outside the expensive and time-consuming litigation process.  Those who are not satisfied with the process, either policyholders or insurers, retain their right to go to court, but mediation’s exceedingly high success rate demonstrates that most parties prefer a speedy and efficient alternative for reaching a good faith settlement.  The mediation concept was pioneered by Florida, and adopted by Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana.

“As state insurance officials, we recognize that insurance is as much a promise as it is a product,” said Alessandro Iuppa, NAIC President and Maine Superintendent of Insurance.  “Part of our responsibility is ensuring that the insurance companies we oversee are structured and capitalized to keep their economic promises to policyholders.  We are greatly encouraged that this legislation, should it become law, will allow the NFIP to do the same, and keep its promise of economic recovery to flood insurance policyholders.”



UNCLAIMED PROPERTY AUCTIONS THIS SUMMER

The Department of Financial Services Bureau of Unclaimed Property will be conducting two public auctions during the summer of 2006.  An auction on July 15 will be held in Jacksonville, and another one on August 26 will be held in Tampa.

For specific details of each auction, click on the link to the left.

Currently, the Chief Financial Officer holds unclaimed property accounts valued at more than $1 billion, mostly from dormant accounts in financial institutions, insurance and utility companies, securities and trust holdings.

In addition to money and securities, unclaimed property includes tangible property such as watches, jewelry, coins, currency, stamps, historical items and other miscellaneous articles from abandoned safe deposit boxes. When the tangible property fills up the vault, an auction is held to convert the property to cash.

Unclaimed money is deposited into the state school fund, where it is used for public education. There is, however, no statute of limitations, and citizens have the right to claim their property any time at no cost.

To find out if the Bureau is holding unclaimed property that belongs to you, click the “Search for Unclaimed Property” to the left or call 1-88-VALUABLE.


GOVERNOR BUSH SIGNS SERIES OF BILLS TO BENEFIT FLORIDA VETERANS AND ACTIVE DUTY MILITARY TROOPS

Governor Jeb Bush recently signed into law a series of bills that will provide additional benefits to Florida’s veterans and active duty military troops. Since 1999, Governor Bush and the Florida Legislature have worked diligently to establish Florida as a military and veteran-friendly state.  In 2005, an interim study conducted by the U.S. House Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee ranked Florida highest overall in providing benefits to veterans. 

“On behalf of all Floridians, I thank our soldiers and veterans for their extraordinary dedication and service to our country,” said Governor Bush. “Their selfless dedication to our country commands not only our respect and admiration, but also our willingness to provide them and their families with assistance to improve their quality of life.”

House Bill 7127 – Relating to Military Funerals

Establishes a first degree misdemeanor offense for any person who willfully interrupts or disturbs an assembly of people who have gathered to acknowledge the death of a military veteran with a military funeral honors detail. Florida joins 7 states that have passed similar legislation.

Senate Bill 1614 – Relating to License Plates for Members of the Florida National Guard

Permanently provides free license plates for active members of the Florida National Guard. The tag is available to all members and is exempt from all base taxes and fees.

Senate Bill 122 – Relating to Undergraduate Tuition Waivers for Florida Recipients of the Purple Heart

Provides free undergraduate tuition at state colleges and universities to Florida recipients of the Purple Heart (and combat-related decorations ranked superior in precedence to the Purple Heart) and their children.

House Bill 573 Relating to Property Taxes for Veterans

Helps veteran homeowners maintain their current standard of living by requiring counties to reduce certain property taxes for disabled veterans, 65 years of age or older, in proportion to the percentage of their combat disability.

Senate Bill 1370 Relating to waiving the residency requirement for State Veterans Nursing Homes

Waives state residency requirements for admission into State Veterans Nursing Homes.  In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, many disabled veterans living in the Gulf States were displaced from their nursing homes and evacuated to Florida facilities. This legislation allows the state to continue providing this critical aid. Florida veterans will still be given priority when moving into any of Florida’s six State Veterans Nursing Homes. 

Senate Bill 2034 Relating to the Children of Deceased or Disabled Veterans Program

Extends the educational benefits of the Children of Deceased or Disabled Veterans Program to the spouses of disabled veterans or soldiers that have been killed or are missing in action. The program provides eligible Floridians with free tuition and payment for registration fees at any institution of higher learning in Florida.

“While today is a great day for servicemen and servicewomen in Florida, it is not a unique day in our state. Under Governor Bush’s leadership, Florida’s commitment to our troops is stronger than ever,” said Major General Douglas Burnett, Adjutant General of the Florida National Guard. 

“This has been another positive year for veterans’ legislation,” said FDVA Executive Director, Colonel Rocky McPherson.  “Governor Bush and the Senate and House sponsors have shown tremendous respect and commitment to our veterans through ongoing support for such legislation in the past several years. We hope to continue this combined effort in years to come.” 

For more information on benefits and assistance for veterans, please visit www.floridavets.org.  For more information on Governor Bush’s commitment to members of the armed forces, please visit www.myflorida.com.


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