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         FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER ALEX SINK'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

         Volume 5, Number 27, July 4, 2008
        
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Tomorrow, our country celebrates the 232nd anniversary of our nation’s founding. On July 4, 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed by our forefathers with a bold promise to secure the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.   

As Floridians from the Panhandle to the Keys gather tomorrow to honor our country with parades, picnics, family gatherings and fireworks displays, it is important to celebrate safely. Community-sponsored, professional fireworks offer exciting displays and guarantee your safety.  

CFO Sink, as the State Fire Marshal, is urging Floridians and visitors to remember that all fireworks can be dangerous. Our Web site offers a list of hundreds of state-approved sparklers for an exciting show, located at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/sfm/sparklerindex.htm.

This weekend is a time to reflect on the promises of our forefathers and recognize that we live in a great, free, and prosperous country.  Let us also pay special tribute to those who have and are now serving our country in uniform to protect our founders' promise.

Happy Fourth of July!  


400,000 INSPECTIONS AND 35,000 GRANTS LATER, MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME SIGN-UPS COME TO AN END

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced that the My Safe Florida Home program will meet the Florida Legislature’s goal of approving 400,000 homeowners for free wind inspections a full year ahead of schedule. The program will cease to take new applications in the next few days.

In 2007, the Florida Legislature directed the MSFH program to provide inspections for at least 400,000 site-built, single-family, residential properties and provide grants to at least 35,000 applicants before June 30, 2009. The popular first-come, first-serve program is averaging over 5,000 new sign-ups a day leading up to today’s announcement and previously met grant goals in May.

“When the Florida Legislature created the My Safe Florida Home program, their intent was to create a culture of mitigation in our state,” said CFO Alex Sink. “Almost half a million homes later, homeowners served by this program are better informed and most are better prepared for the next big storm.”

Participating homeowners received a free wind inspection report, which suggests ways homeowners can harden their homes against storm damage and informs homeowners if they are currently eligible to save money on their wind insurance premiums. To date, 58 percent of homeowners who have received a free wind inspection were eligible for discounts on their wind insurance premiums averaging $219.31 statewide. To date, the MSFH program, including local government and non-profits, has approved approximately 39,000 homeowners for mitigation grants and has paid 18,787 grants totaling more than $63.8 million.

“The My Safe Florida Home program has proven to be a success for Florida homeowners, especially for those that live in the most vulnerable areas of our state,” Senator Charlie Justice said. “It is an honor to have worked with CFO Alex Sink to make sure that as many homeowners as possible benefited from this program. It is my hope that the Legislature finds a way to continue helping Florida’s families strengthen their homes.”

Any Floridian who lives in a single-family, site-built home was eligible for a free wind inspection through the MSFH program. Homeowners who received free wind inspections through the MSFH program received a detailed inspection report, complete with additional information on estimated insurance premium discounts, if the homeowner is eligible.


CFO SINK AND EMERGENCY MANAGERS URGE FIREWORKS SAFETY THIS FOURTH OF JULY

Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink today joined State Emergency Management officials in urging Floridians to observe fire safety rules and follow fireworks laws as they celebrate this Fourth of July.

“As we gather this Friday to celebrate America’s Independence, I urge Floridians and visitors to take the proper fire safety precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones,” said CFO Sink. “All fireworks can be dangerous, and that makes it all the more crucial the public utilize only state approved fireworks for their celebrations.”

Nearly 10,000 Americans were treated for fireworks related injuries in emergency rooms last year. In Florida alone, fire departments responded to 137 fires related to fireworks and sparklers, resulting in more than $400,000 in damages during 2007.

“The Fourth of July is a time for Floridians to come together and enjoy family and friends, but unfortunately many end up visiting emergency rooms,” said State Emergency Management Director Craig Fugate. “We want our residents and visitors to celebrate safely this weekend.”

Under Florida law, only sparklers, approved by CFO Sink’s Division of State Fire Marshal, are legal for consumer usage. However, an exemption in the law allows for the use of un-approved fireworks for agricultural purpose, such as freighting birds from fish hatcheries. Anyone using fireworks under the agricultural exemption must have a permit from the Sheriff in the county where they will use the product. Without a permit, it is illegal to use fireworks in Florida, which include: shells and mortars, multiple tube devices, Roman candles, rockets and firecrackers.

As a general guideline, anything that flies through the air or explodes is not allowed for consumer use. Floridians should not sign “waivers” in order to purchase fireworks. Signing a waiver will not clear a consumer of responsibility should you be caught illegally using fireworks, which is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

There is still a risk of injury with the use of legal sparklers. When lit, some sparklers can reach temperatures between 1,300 and 1,800 degrees - at least 200 degrees hotter than a standard butane lighter. For a list of hundreds of sparklers that are legal to use in Florida, as well as safety tips, visit the State Fire Marshal’s web site at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/sfm/sparklerindex.htm for a list of approved sparklers.

To celebrate safely, CFO Sink advises Floridians to follow these precautions:

  • Use sparklers and other legal novelties on a flat, hard surface.

  • Do not light them on grass.

  • Use sparklers in an open area. Keep children and pets at least 30 feet away from all ignited sparklers.

  • Light only one item at a time and never attempt to re-light a “dud.”

  • Don’t use any unwrapped items or items that may have been tampered with.

  • Keep a fire extinguisher or water hose on-hand for emergencies. It’s a good idea to drop used sparklers in a bucket of water.

  • Only purchase fireworks from licensed vendors.
    Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks.

  • Never have any portion of your body directly over a fireworks device when lighting the fuse.

  • Never carry fireworks in your pocket or shoot them off in metal or glad containers.


Money-Smart Idea of the Week

Idea:  Get a discount for paying cash for gas

The next time you fill up your car's gas tank, paying with cash might get you a discount from the gas station.

With gas prices way up, bigger profits are not particularly coming to gas station owners. Station owners must pay a credit card fee of 1.5 percent to 3 percent of the total purchase price when a credit card is used. With the current high gas prices more drivers are paying with plastic and the credit card fees are taken out of station owners' profits.

Discounts of five to 14 cents a gallon are being offering to cash-paying customers at about 500 gas stations in 23 states. Some stations have stopped accepting credit cards altogether.

Cash deals can be found in Arizona, California, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania and South Carolina. GasBuddy.com, a consumer advocacy web site, tracks gas prices through the reports of volunteer gas price spotters.

Expect more stations to join this plan. As gas prices go up — they are already up 37% from a year ago — more drivers will choose to pay with credit cards, thereby encouraging more station owners to offer discounts to cash-paying customers. The National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) member stores are looking at the discounts to see what they can do.

To find stations offering cash-payment discounts, call local gas stations, local TV or radio stations or check with web sites like GasBuddy.com.

Keep in mind that gas discounts won't save you money if you have to drive more than five miles out of your way to find them.


CFO SINK: PENSACOLA MAN FACING 30 YEARS IN PRISON FOR WORKERS’ COMPENSATION FRAUD

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced the arrest of Melvin Toler, 51, of Toler Concrete, Inc. on June 23 for operating without required workers' compensation coverage.

An investigation on Toler uncovered that he had knowingly avoided his obligation to pay workers’ compensation coverage on employees in his masonry business.

Toler was arrested Monday on second degree felony charges of working without workers’ compensation coverage and knowing violation of a stop-work order. He is currently being held in the Escambia County jail.

If convicted, Toler could face a possible 30 years in prison, $20,000 dollars in fines and restitution of more than $89,000 for the pending second-degree felony charges.

In 2007-2008, the bureau’s enforcement and investigative efforts resulted in the issuance of more than 2,500 stop-work orders to employers failing to secure workers’ compensation insurance coverage. The bureau’s efforts caused more than 6,000 new employees to be covered under the workers’ compensation law. As a result $7 million was added to the premium base that previously had been evaded due to non-compliance.

The cost of insurance fraud is estimated at as much as $1,400 a year in premiums for the average Florida family. The DIF investigates various forms of fraud in insurance, including health, life, auto, property and workers' compensation insurance. Depending on the estimated loss amount, the department will pay up to $25,000 for information directly leading to an arrest and conviction. Anyone with information about this or any other suspected insurance fraud is asked to call the department's Fraud Fighters Hotline at 1-800-378-0445 or log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com/fraud.  Complaints can be tracked online.


EMERGENCY PREPAREDNESS IN THE WORKPLACE

If you have never experienced a serious emergency in your workplace, you might find it hard to imagine such a thing could happen.  However, every day in job settings something goes seriously wrong.

It could be a fire, fatal injury, flood, earthquake, shooting, hurricane, tornado, chemical spill or another kind of crisis. Whether everyone survives and escapes injury depends on how well they are prepared for an emergency.

Are you prepared to survive a workplace emergency? You should be receiving regular training and practice dealing with the types of emergencies most likely to occur where you work.

The first survival tool is knowledge. You need to know what can go wrong. Are hazardous chemicals stored or transported near your workplace? Is your workplace an essential service or a high-profile setting that could be targeted by terrorists? Are you located in a tornado zone or a natural flood plain? 

Second, you must know how to get out of the building and reach safety. Right now, can you point out two exits from your work area?  Elevators don’t count because you should not  use them in any emergency. Do you know  where you are to assemble with your fellow workers after an evacuation of the building?  This is an important aspect of the emergency procedure because if you do not show up there, an emergency crew might have to risk injury looking for you. Evacuation procedures can be summed up as follows: Get out, go to a safe place and stay there.

Third, do you know what other duties you are expected to perform in an emergency?  You need to know how to call for help. Emergency phone numbers should be posted at each telephone in your workplace, along with the address and directions to your work area. Your responsibilities might include checking for stragglers and shutting doors as you leave, or assisting a fellow worker who uses a wheelchair.

You might also be assigned responsibility for shutting down equipment or chemical processes in an emergency. If you are supposed to fight fire, clean up hazardous chemicals or rescue victims, you will need special training and equipment.

The time to learn about these emergency procedures is now—not after something goes wrong. Your employer has developed a plan for the kinds of emergencies that can be reasonably expected. You need to find out your own part in the plan, learn how to do it and practice it. Also, make sure you find out who is in charge in an emergency. Should you be listening to your supervisor or to a security employee?

You should also be familiar with the various alarm sounds and lights in your workplace. Alarm systems typically have different signals for fire and intruder emergencies. There may also be specific alarms related to hazardous equipment, chemicals, gases and other hazards.

Do your best to plan for the worst—that’s the basis of emergency preparedness. Please see the linked brochure titled, “Turn Around, Don’t Drown,” prepared by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.


WORKERS’ COMPENSATION TRANSFER SET TO IMPROVE SERVICES FOR INJURED WORKERS

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink commended the Florida Legislature for the successful passage of House Bill 5045. The bill went into effect Monday and transfers the Workers’ Compensation Medical Services Unit from the Agency for Health Care Administration to the Department of Financial Services, Division of Workers’ Compensation. The bill was sponsored by Rep. Ron Reagan (D-Sarasota) and signed by the Governor on June 10, 2008.

“It is imperative that medical treatment is provided effectively and in a manner that allows injured workers to return to work as quickly possible, pays health care providers adequately, and minimizes costs to employers,” said CFO Sink. “With the transfer, the Division’s regulatory ability to effect positive change in the workers’ compensation medical benefit delivery system will be significantly enhanced.”

The Workers’ Compensation Medical Services Unit is responsible for certifying workers’ compensation health care providers and expert medical advisors, ensuring appropriate utilization of medical treatment, resolving disputes from health care providers contesting carriers’ reimbursement decisions, and developing reimbursement manuals for health care providers.

For more information about the Division of Workers’ Compensation, visit http://www.myfloridacfo.com/wc/ or call 850-413-1601. For injured worker assistance, call 1-800-342-1741.


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