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FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER ALEX SINK'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 4, Number 3, January 19, 2007

Dear Floridian:

The state Legislature has been in Special Session all week, in an attempt to address the hurricane insurance crisis facing our state. As the state’s chief financial officer, it is my goal to ensure we are providing Floridians meaningful relief in a fiscally responsible way. I want to assure you that I share your concerns about skyrocketing insurance costs and the lack of a truly competitive market. I am hopeful that the Legislature will come to an agreement early next week that will provide the rate reductions Floridians desperately need.

As chief financial officer, I am also eager to work with the Legislature to expand the My Safe Florida Home program, which helps Floridians harden their homes against hurricane damage. Our best long-term strategy to reduce the cost of hurricane insurance is to reduce the amount of potential damage and take the necessary steps to ensure the safety of our families.

--
Alex Sink


CFO SINK ATTENDS FIRST CABINET MEETING

At the January 18, 2007, Cabinet meeting, CFO Alex Sink supported the appointment of two new agency heads and the reaffirmation of the Director of the State Board of Administration. 

CFO Sink made the motion to approve the appointment of Mike Sole as the new Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, which was unanimously approved by the Governor and Cabinet.  As Secretary of DEP, Mike oversees Florida’s environmental regulatory and law enforcement programs, the acquisition, conservation and management of public lands, including Florida’s award-winning state parks, and the development and regulation of Florida’s water resources through the State’s five water management districts.  

Secretary Sole has served the Department since 1991, most recently as Deputy Secretary for Regulatory Programs and Energy where he spearheaded the 2006 Florida Energy Act -- the four-year, $100 million plan to diversify the state’s fuel supply and promote energy conservation and efficiency. 

CFO Sink also supported the appointment of Navy Rear Admiral LeRoy Collins, Jr. as the new Executive Director of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs.  Admiral Collins is the son of Florida's 33rd governor, LeRoy Collins.  Admiral Collins graduated from the US Naval Academy in 1956 and served in the U.S. Navy and U.S. Navy Reserve (submarines) for 34 years, retiring as a two-star admiral.  

Following these two appointments, CFO Sink made the motion to reconfirm Coleman Stipanovich as the Executive Director of the State Board of Administration.  Mr. Stipanovich has served as Executive Director since 2002 and has helped make Florida’s Pension fund one of the best and most respected pension funds in the nation. 


CFO SINK LAUNCHES NATIONWIDE SEARCH FOR NEW DIVISION DIRECTOR OF INSURANCE FRAUD

In an effort to combat the mounting rate of insurance fraud, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink Wednesday launched a nationwide search for a highly-experienced and talented law enforcement official to lead the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud (DIF).

According to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, Floridians pay an additional $1,400 in insurance costs each year due to fraud. Auto insurance fraud alone is estimated to cost Floridians $250 annually.

“We’re looking for a highly-motivated law enforcement official to lead our nationally-recognized team of insurance fraud detectives,” said CFO Sink. “We’re going to strengthen our efforts to crack down on this growing crime in our state.”

DIF is one of 40 state anti-fraud bureaus and one of 32 with police powers. A nationally recognized law enforcement agency, DIF consistently leads other state fraud bureaus in arrests and convictions. The average number of fraud referrals annually among state anti-fraud bureaus is 2,400; DIF’s average is 13,000. The average number of cases presented annually for prosecution among state bureaus is 127; DIF’s annual average is 800. DIF is also directly responsible for annual court-awarded restitution to insurance fraud victims averaging more than $100 million a year.

“Our mission is to help innocent Floridians recover from these crimes and stop those criminals who perpetuate insurance fraud in our state,” Sink said. “Spread the word: if you commit insurance fraud in Florida, you will be brought to justice and punished to the fullest extent of the law.”

The fraud division is the law enforcement arm of the Department of Financial Services responsible for investigating crimes associated with insurance claim fraud, insurance premium fraud, workers’ compensation claim fraud, workers’ compensation premium avoidance and diversions, insurer insolvency fraud, unauthorized insurance entity fraud, and insurance agent crimes. The division’s investigators also investigate viatical application fraud, defalcations of escrow funds held in trust by title insurance firms, and non-Medicaid related health care fraud.

The division offers a reward of up to $25,000 for information leading to an arrest and conviction in complex insurance fraud cases, and has paid more than $94,000 in rewards since 2001.

Earlier this month, CFO Sink promoted former DIF Director Eric Miller to deputy chief chief financial officer. Major John Askins is serving as acting director of DIF.


CFO SINK ON PBS FLORIDA FACE TO FACE

Earlier this week CFO Alex Sink had the opportunity to sit down with Beth Switzer of the Florida Face to Face TV program.  To be shown in the next few days on Florida's PBS stations, the thirty-minute conversation covers a variety of topics from the progress of this week’s Special Session, the potential solutions to Florida’s insurance crisis, the role of the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate as well as the importance of our Division of Insurance Fraud. 

Please see the schedule below of when this program will be aired around the state.  If you are interested in staying informed on the challenges we face as Floridians, please tune in.  

Florida Face to Face is a weekly half-hour interview program hosted by Beth Switzer that introduces Floridians to their top policy-makers and examines the issues facing the state. The program can be seen on public television stations statewide.

Broadcast Times and Dates on PBS Stations

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City

PBS Logo

Stations

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Times and Dates

Cocoa

WBCC-68

Thursday, Jan. 18, 7:30 PM;
Sunday, Jan. 21, 5:00 PM

Daytona Beach

WCEU-15

Sunday, Jan. 21, 10:30 AM

Ft.Myers

WGCU-30

Sunday, Jan. 21, 10:30 AM

Gainesville

WUFT-5

Wednesday, Jan. 24, 1:30 PM

Jacksonville

WJCT-7

Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2:00 PM

Miami

WLRN-17

Sunday, Jan.21, 12:00 PM
Monday, Jan. 22, 1:00 AM

Orlando

WMFE-24

Saturday, Jan. 20, 12:30 AM

Panama City

WFSG-56

Thursday, Jan. 18, 6:30 PM;
Sunday, Jan. 21, 10:30 AM

Pensacola

WSRE-23

Sunday, Jan. 21, 12:30 PM

Tallahassee

WFSU-11

Thursday, Jan. 18, 8:30 PM;
Sunday, Jan. 21, 11:30 AM

Tallahassee

FSU's Cable Channel-4

Mon.-Fri., 6:30 a.m.
Saturday, Jan. 20, 9:00 PM;
Sunday, Jan. 21, 6:30 PM;
Wednesday, Jan. 24, 6:00 PM

Tampa

WEDU-3

Sunday, Jan. 21, 11:30 AM

Tampa

WUSF-16

Sunday, Jan. 21, 7:30 AM

West Palm

WXEL-42

Saturday, Jan. 20, 7:30 AM


CFO SINK ON PROGRESS OF SPECIAL SESSION AND POTENTIAL CITIZENS REFORMS

As the House of Representatives and Senate moved into the conference position Thursday during the Special Session on hurricane insurance, Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink offered the following statement:

“I’m very pleased with the amount of progress the Legislature has made during this week’s special session. We are moving closer to providing Floridians meaningful relief in a fiscally responsible way.

“As Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, I am concerned about the impact of the high insurance rates on people and the overall economy of our state. At the same time, we must guard the long-term fiscal health of our state. I want to make certain that we are making decisions that are in the best interests of tax payers in the future, as well as immediately.

“As we consider proposals that expand Florida’s Hurricane Catastrophe Fund, we must set a fiscally responsible limit that protects Floridians from being held liable for astronomical assessments, should we encounter truly devastating storms. As the House and Senate deliberate over the next few days, I encourage our legislative leaders to consider setting the upper limit of the Fund at a level that does not jeopardize Florida’s financial strength for the future.

“I am also eager to work with the Legislature and Governor Crist during the regular session to strengthen the powers of the Insurance Consumer Advocate to provide the fullest possible protection to consumers. To be truly effective, Floridians deserve an Insurance Consumer Advocate who is able to challenge rate filings, investigate bad insurance practices and advocate for new insurance products and practices in our state, with an eye toward a healthy and stable insurance market.

“Additionally, I am concerned about making changes to Citizens Property Insurance Corporation before we have had an opportunity to evaluate the potential impact. I encourage the Legislature to consider asking Citizens to create a business plan prior to the regular session, which demonstrates the intended operation of expanding to all-perils policies.”


CFO SINK COMMENDS LEGISLATION IMPROVING
THE MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME PROGRAM

 Working with the Legislature to make a number of improvements to the state’s newly created mitigation fund, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink Wednesday commended legislation moving through the House of Representatives that will expand protections and access to the services available through the My Safe Florida Home program.   

Sponsored by State Representatives Trey Traviesa (R-Brandon) and Franklin Sands (D-Weston), the House legislation (5A) includes new requirements for wind inspectors to pass a Level 2 background check which includes fingerprinting, removes obstacles for low-income homeowners without insurance to participate in the program and creates a study committee to further explore additional ways to help Floridians strengthen their homes against hurricanes.  

“I share the Legislature’s goal of ensuring the proper protections are in place and serving a greater number of Floridians through the My Safe Florida Home program,” said CFO Sink.  “This program provides valuable information, and we are finding that many homes are better fortified than are currently recorded by insurance companies.  Many homeowners are eligible to receive discounts from their insurance companies without even making a single improvement.”

The My Safe Florida Home program was created by the Legislature during the 2006 Legislative Session.  Former CFO Tom Gallagher created an initial pilot phase of the program comprising more than 13,000 home inspections, which has ended.  As homeowners receive their completed inspection reports, they will learn the potential improvements they can make to their homes, along with applications for matching grant funds of up to $5,000. 

More information about the program is available at www.mysafefloridahome.com. To date, the My Safe Florida Home program has received more than 65,000 applications for wind inspections.  CFO Sink will continue to work with the Legislature to make the necessary improvements.  Additional applications will be processed once the program restarts, as early as March.  

“We are currently evaluating the My Safe Florida Home program to determine the best course of action going forward,” said CFO Sink.  “I want to make certain that Floridians are given the tools and information they need to fortify their houses and keep their families safe during hurricanes.”


DFS LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER HONORED BY ATTORNEY GENERAL

Two of the department's law enforcement officers, nominated by their respective agencies, were recognized on Wednesday by Attorney General Bill McCollum for outstanding work in 2006. CFO Alex Sink attended the ceremony and joined McCollum in greeting dozens of law enforcement officers who were on hand to support their nominees.

Lieutenant Michael Byrne, nominated by the Division of Insurance Fraud, and Detective John Esslinger, nominated by the Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, were among 13 nominees for the Office of Attorney General's Law Enforcement Officer of the Year award.

Lt. Byrne is among the top 10 percent of insurance fraud detectives in Florida, and last year submitted 30 cases for prosecution leading to 16 arrests. Further, Lt. Byrne was the lead investigator in one of the largest staged accident rings in Pinellas County history involving more than 30 individuals involved in a $300,000 insurance fraud scheme. Breaking the case was attributed largely to Lieutenant Byrne’s expertise and investigative skills.

Detective Esslinger, who currently serves in Broward County, last year earned an arson fire arrest rate 21 percent higher than the national average. In one year alone he investigated 76 fires, 33 of which were determined to be the result of arson. Detective Esslinger was a key investigator in a Broward County arson case in which he determined that a fire at a commercial dry cleaning business was set by the owner and his son to collect on insurance claims.

The Attorney General's award was given to Detective Sergeant James R. Contento of the Tampa Police Department. Detective Contento was recognized for building successful community partnerships, including coordinating a team of patrol officers to work with mall managers and retailers in an operation credited with a more than 25 percent crime drop.


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