Volume 7 Number 44 October 29, 2010

Dear Floridian:

This week the Florida Cabinet took an important opportunity to do the right thing on behalf of the victims, clemency applicants, and inmates in Florida’s criminal justice system and appointed a highly-qualified minority criminal justice professional to Florida’s Parole Commission. In a unanimous vote, my fellow Cabinet members joined me in electing Cassandra Jenkins to a five-year post, ensuring that Florida’s Parole Commission Board finally reflects the diversity of this state and those in our criminal justice system.

Also this week, I continued to fight for Floridians and our small businesses still caught up in the endless bureaucracy of the Gulf Coast Claims Facility (GCCF). Following up on an offer from GCCF Administrator Ken Feinberg to send him claims that we found were not being fairly addressed, my Division of Consumer Outreach and Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate provided him with a book of Floridians’ claims that deserve his attention at this week’s Gulf Oil Spill Economic Recovery Task Force meeting.

Sincerely,

Alex




Alex Sink
CFO
State of Florida


CFO Alex Sink Applauds Appointment of Cassandra Jenkins to FloridaCassandra Jenkins, Governor and Cabinet Parole Commission

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Tuesday applauded the Florida Cabinet’s unanimous vote on the appointment of Cassandra Jenkins to the Florida Parole Commission. Jenkins’ appointment is effective January 5, 2011, and she will serve in that post until January 2017.

“I could not be more pleased that my fellow Cabinet members have taken this opportunity today to do the right thing on behalf of Florida’s victims, clemency applicants, and inmates,” said CFO Sink. “Finally, Florida’s Parole Commission reflects the diversity of this state and those in our criminal justice system. Cassandra Jenkins' commitment to the CFO Alex Sink and Cassandra Jenkinscriminal justice system and her experience and professionalism are a tremendous asset to the Parole Commission.”

Jenkins brings more than 27 years of law enforcement experience to the commission, including 12 years with FDLE and 12 years with the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice. She has also served as a juvenile justice consultant and criminal justice instructor at Florida State University where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in criminology, graduating magna cum laude.

CFO Sink sent a letter to fellow Florida Cabinet members in July to encourage the appointment of a candidate to fill the seat being vacated in January 2011 by Commissioner Fred Dunphy.


State Fire Marshal & CFO Alex Sink Congratulates Her Forensic Laboratory on Recent International Award State Fire Marshal

Vollmer award medalThis week Florida CFO & State Fire Marshal Alex Sink commended the State Fire Marshal’s Bureau of Forensic Fire and Explosives Analysis (BFFEA) for receiving the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) Vollmer award for Excellence in Forensic Science. This special award recognizes the proactive and innovative use of forensic technologies by law enforcement and the significant impact of forensic science on the criminal justice system.

Vollmer awardThe BFFEA specializes in the analysis of fire debris and explosives and is one of only three states, including Texas and Ohio, that operates a specialized forensic laboratory in the United States.

When processed early in the investigation, International Association of Chiefs of Policefire debris analysis can establish a suspect’s access or exposure to setting the fire or can be used in early interrogations. The forensic report may only be used during a trial as prima facie evidence that the fire was not accidental.

“I am very proud of our laboratory and staff for receiving this distinguished award and for their hard work and commitment to assisting other agencies in their investigations,” said CFO Sink. “I applaud Bureau Chief Carl Chasteen and his team not only for being acknowledged for their excellence, but also for their commitment to fire departments throughout Florida for whom they conduct the analyses.”

Since 1992, Florida’s Division of State Fire Marshal’s BFFEA has recognized the importance of decreasing turnaround time for analyses of fire debris evidence in completing investigations, reaching an average turnaround today of 7.7 days from July 1, 2008, to July 1, 2009. This speedy turnaround ensures that fire debris results get to investigators in sufficient time to be factored into preliminary investigation and represents a 58.4 percent reduction in turnaround time with a 54.3 percent increase in the number of samples processed.


CFO Sink Statement Regarding Three Escambia County Deputies Shot in the Line of Duty

Florida CFO Alex Sink on Friday offered the following statement on behalf of three Escambia county deputies who were shot while responding to an apparent home invasion.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the three officers who were wounded today while protecting the citizens of Escambia County, and also with their families,” said CFO Sink. “I am grateful for their brave service and that the suspect, who was also wounded, is now in custody. I ask all Floridians to join me in recognizing these dedicated public servants and tremendous sacrifices our law enforcement officers make every day throughout Florida.”

In the last month alone, including Friday’s unfortunate events, a total of five Escambia deputies have been shot or shot at including one deputy involved in the investigation of an apparent meth lab in late September, and one deputy fired at in mid-October while conducting a welfare check.


State Fire Marshal Sink Hosts 2010 Accelerant K-9 Recertification Program

State Fire MarshalState Fire Marshal Alex Sink announced the successful recertification of five State Fire Marshal K-9 teams at a three-day accelerant K-9 recertification training hosted by the SFM’s Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations.K-9 Molly There were 35 teams at the training in St. Augustine from the United States.

Shown to the right: K-9 Molly and Det. Redding.

With an arson dog, investigators can quickly pinpoint the location of accelerant residue, which saves the arson investigator time at a fire scene. What once took a person hours or days to uncover, a dog can now find in a matter K-9 Amy and Lt. Thomas Barronof minutes. Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations teams comprise the K-9 and a handler who is a law enforcement officer trained to investigate fire scenes.

Shown to the left: K-9 Amy and Lt. Thomas Barron.

State Farm® underwrites the Arson Dog Program because arson is a serious because arson is a serious crime that deprives citizens of their property and sometimes their lives. Established in 1993, over 200 arson dog teams have been placed in Arson Investigation Units in 41 states, the District of Columbia and three Canadian provinces. Teams complete an initial five-week training program and are certified through the Maine State Criminal Justice Academy upon graduation.

All K-9s and their handlers must be re-certified annually. The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations teams recertified include:

Shown to the right: The burn building for intensive K-9 training.

The three-day recertification program includes learning emergency medical care for K-9 partners, standard drills to improve recognition of scents, working a large burn building, blind testing and recertification of the teams. The K-9 Accelerant Detection program was implemented by the State Fire Marshal’s office in 1998 with financial and technical support and assistance from the State Farm Insurance Company.


Small Business Forum

Small Business Roundtable Discussions Are Being Held Around the State

Florida CFO Alex Sink’s Department of Financial Services is hosting a series of forums in honor of Women’s Small Business Month. In addition to representatives from the Department, partners include the Small Business Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, local colleges and universities, and chambers of commerce.

The forums, which are part of the CFO’s Family Fiscal Fitness initiative, are being held across Florida. In the events held so far, many attendees have come to find information, tools and resources to maximize the effectiveness of their small businesses.

Small Business ForumMore than 120 consumers visited the Small Business Workshop at the Lee Davis Neighborhood Service Center on Wednesday. A sample of communities represented were Lakeland, Palm Harbor, Valrico, Ruskin, Riverview, Clearwater, Wesley Chapel, Safety Harbor, San Antonio, Thonotosassa, Tampa, St. Petersburg and Land O' Lakes, Florida.

Small Business ForumUpcoming forums include:

Monday, November 1, 2010
Small Business Roundtable
Gadsden County Extension Office,
2410 West Jefferson Street, Quincy 32351
10:00 a.m. to noon


Consumer CornerHalloween Safety Tricks and Tips

It’s Halloween time again. While you’re stocking up on candy and lighting the candles in your jack o’ lanterns, don’t forget to change the batteries in your smoke detector. Fresh batteries and a quick test of your smoke detector can save your family’s lives.

Remember that there will be increased pedestrian traffic on roads and in neighborhoods. CFO Sink cautions Florida motorists and young pedestrians to be safe during Halloween trick or treat travels. Here are a few safety tips parents and young pedestrians should follow:

Motorists • Be observant and drive slowly in areas where children are trick or treating. • Be cautious when pulling in and out of driveways. • Watch out for children who may dart out into traffic without looking. • Drive below the posted speed limit during the hours of trick or treating. • Be aware of when your community or neighborhood is holding Halloween activities. • Vehicles may stop in the roadway to drop off children. Do not pass these vehicles until children are in a safe area. • Refrain from using a cell phone while driving through residential communities.

Young Pedestrians and Parents • Know the route your children are taking. • An adult should accompany the group. • Walk on the sidewalk. Walk facing traffic if there isn't a sidewalk. • Carry a flashlight • Consider painting faces with makeup rather than wearing masks. This will allow for clearer vision at night.

The number of deaths among young pedestrians is four times higher on Halloween night than any other night of the year. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that fatal collisions between motor vehicles and young pedestrians are more frequent between the hours of 4:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. on Halloween night. In the excitement, children may not be mindful of their surroundings as motorists are rushing home in the early evening.


Insurance Consumer AdvocateInsurance Consumer Advocate Terry Butler Encourages Consumers to take Advantage of Preventative Services

Terry Butler, Interim Insurance Consumer Advocate

Terry Butler, Interim Insurance Consumer Advocate

Consumers often defer getting screened for diabetes, hypertension, and other conditions until a later date because of having to pay a co-payment. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, consumers will no longer have to pay a co-payment for many preventative care services. The Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate would like to remind consumers to take advantage of the preventative health care services that are now free of charge under the Affordable Care Act.

Beginning January 1, 2011, many consumers will see co-payments for preventative care services disappear as a result of the Affordable Care Act, and some consumers may see this change sooner if they recently purchased a new policy or renewed their policy in the last month. Existing plans will implement this change following the plan’s policy anniversary, which in most cases is the first day of the new year.

Consumers should note that preventative services are beneficial not only to their health, but to the overall cost of treating a condition. Treating a condition after it has been diagnosed is far more costly than obtaining preventative care services. Under the Affordable Care Act, dozens of preventative services will be covered for men, women, and children. These services include:

For more information regarding when free preventative care services go into effect, consumers should contact their insurer. Consumers should be aware that the co-payment waiver only applies to the tests or assessments directly related to the preventative services. If you discuss other medical issues with your physician, your insurer will probably be billed for a regular office visit and you will have to pay the usual copayment that applies to your coverage.

Consumers seeking any additional information on the new rules regarding preventative care should visit www.healthcare.gov.

Consumers that have any additional questions regarding preventative care coverage should contact the Division of Consumer Services within the Department of Financial Services on-line at http://www.myfloridacfo.com/Consumers/ or by phone at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236), toll-free in Florida, and (850) 413-3089 from out of state.


Hurricane Season: Are you prepared?Hurricane Checklist: Why You Should Register for Assistance

Homeownerss Financial Toolkit

During the 2010 hurricane season, should we get hit by a major hurricane and receive a presidential disaster declaration, Floridians need to know what type of response to expect. The first response will come from our state and local governments, voluntary relief groups and other forms of assistance, such as insurance. However, FEMA will be working with state officials to assess the damages as quickly and safely as possible.

Should the level of damage warrant, the governor may request the President to declare the area a “major disaster.” Once the declaration is issued, communities will see FEMA officials move quickly into the area and establish Disaster Recovery Centers (DRC) at existing or replacing State Essential Services Centers. These are one-stop locations where all disaster relief organizations will gather.

While the FEMA recovery program provides financial assistance and service to individuals and families for basic expenses, your flood and homeowners insurance is the primary source for recovery.

We recommend that you register for FEMA assistance and contact your insurance company in the event of a major disaster event. If your insurance settlement is delayed more than 30 days, or if you need immediate additional living assistance, you may be eligible for an insurance advance from FEMA. However, FEMA assistance is not intended to repair your property to its pre-storm condition. It is only to provide assistance to ensure that you and your family have a safe and sanitary place to live until your permanent residence is habitable. You should beware that an insurance advance is a loan and it must be repaid upon receipt of your insurance settlement.

Immediately after a major disaster event, you may not think that you have a need for FEMA assistance or qualify for FEMA assistance. However, your circumstances may change during the recovery process. In the aftermath of the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, many Florida families were out of their homes for a year or longer and exceeded their homeowners insurance policy additional living expense limit. If these families had registered with FEMA immediately after the storm or within the registration period, they could have resubmitted their request to FEMA and may have been eligible for monetary assistance, even after an initial denial. For this reason, FEMA encourages everyone in a major disaster area to register for assistance immediately after the event or within the registration period (60 days from the date of the event). Every family in a major disaster area is eligible to receive up to $30,300 in federal assistance regardless of income level.

When applying for FEMA assistance it is important to remember that applicants must meet specific criteria for various types of disaster assistance. For example, an applicant may apply for the Small Business Administration (SBA) loan, but not meet the income level or other qualifications for an SBA loan. In this type of situation, their application will be automatically referred to FEMA’s individual and household grant program.

FEMA provides more than just housing assistance. They provide disaster-related moving, storage, clothing, household items, medical, dental, funeral and other expenses that are deemed necessary and authorized by law. FEMA also assists renters with additional rental expenses and the replacement of essential belongings.

We hope that you never find yourself in a declared major disaster area, but if you do - please know that FEMA will be ready to help you. To learn more about FEMA, please visit their website at http://www.fema.gov or call (800) 621-FEMA(3362) or 1-800- 462-7585 for the hearing and speech-impaired.

If you have any questions about your insurance coverage or the claims handling process, please call your insurance company or Department of Financial Services, Division of Consumer Services’ Helpline at (850) 413-3089, 1-877-MyFLCFO (693-5236) or 1-800-22-STORM.


Florida Housing HelpFind Out More about Mortgage Help

Residents of Lee County who are unemployed or underemployed may be eligible for mortgage assistance through the Florida Hardest Hit Fund. Lee County has been chosen as a pilot county for this program because the metro area of Ft. Myers-Cape Coral has some of the highest foreclosure rates in the country.

Florida Hardest HitThose who qualify for the program may receive loans to help with monthly mortgage payments for up to 18 months or for the Mortgage Loan Reinstatement Payment Program (MLRP), that assists in bringing past-due mortgage payments current for up to four months.

The homeowner’s loan must must have been in place by Jan. 1, 2009; the balance of the mortgage must not exceed $400,000 at the time of the application and the homeowner’s mortgage service provider must agree to the plan and sign up for the program.

All Florida counties will be eligible to participate in the program in 2011. Homeowners interested in participating in the program are urged to visit the Florida Housing Corporation’s Florida Hardest Hit Fund website for updates.


Safeguard Our SeniorsBenefits of a Driver Safety Course

Cars have changed. So have the traffic rules, driving conditions, and the roads you travel every day. Many drivers age 50 and older have never looked back since they got their first driver licenses. Even the most experienced drivers can benefit from a refresher course.

What Will I Learn by Taking a Course?

You can expect to learn current rules of the road, defensive driving techniques, and how to operate your vehicle more safely in today's increasingly challenging driving environment. You'll learn about simple adjustments to accommodate common age-related changes in vision, hearing, and reaction time. Here are some other topics you’ll learn about:

After completing the course, you will have a greater appreciation of driving challenges and how you can avoid potential collisions and injuries to yourself and others.

How Can I Sign Up?

To locate a classroom course visit www.aarp.org/findacourse. Course times, dates and locations will be listed along with a phone number to call to register for the course. Or call toll-free,-1-888-AARP-NOW (1-888-227-7669). To register for the online course, visit www.aarpdriversafety.org.


My Family CFOSafety is Paramount on Halloween

Here are 13 lucky tips from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration:

1. Wear costumes made of fire-retardant materials; look for “flame resistant” on the label. If you make your costume, use flame-resistant fabrics such as polyester or nylon.
2. Wear bright, reflective costumes or add strips of reflective tape so you’ll be more visible; make sure the costumes aren’t so long that you’re in danger of tripping.
3. Wear makeup and hats rather than masks that can obscure your vision.
4. Test the makeup you plan to use by putting a small amount on your arm a couple of days in advance. If you get a rash, redness, swelling, or other signs of irritation where you applied it, that’s a sign you may be allergic to it.
5. Check FDA’s list of color additives to see if additives in your makeup are FDA approved. If they aren’t approved for their intended use, don’t use it.
6. Don’t wear decorative contact lenses unless you have seen an eye care professional and gotten a proper lens fitting and instructions for using the lenses.
7. Don’t eat candy until it has been inspected at home.
8. Trick-or-treaters should eat a snack before heading out, so they won’t be tempted to nibble on treats that haven’t been inspected.
9. Tell children not to accept—or eat—anything that isn’t commercially wrapped.
10. Parents of very young children should remove any choking hazards such as gum, peanuts, hard candies, or small toys.
11. Inspect commercially wrapped treats for si32gns of tampering, such as an unusual appearance or discoloration, tiny pinholes, or tears in wrappers. Throw away anything that looks suspicious.
12. Look for the warning label to avoid juice that hasn’t been pasteurized or otherwise processed, especially packaged juice products that may have been made on site. When in doubt, ask! Always ask it you are unsure if a juice product is pasteurized or not. Normally, the juice found in your grocer’s frozen food case, refrigerated section, or on the shelf in boxes, bottles, or cans is pasteurized.
13. Before bobbing for apples—a favorite Halloween game—reduce the amount of bacteria that might be on apples by thoroughly rinsing them under cool running water. As an added precaution, use a produce brush to remove surface dirt.