Volume 8 Number 26 July 1, 2011
Dear Fellow Floridians:
Thomas Paine once said, “Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must…undergo the fatigue of supporting it.” It is my duty as Florida’s Chief Financial Officer to fight each day for a Florida that holds true to the fundamental principles of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, just as our Founding Fathers did centuries ago.
On Monday, we celebrate the Fourth of July and reflect on the bravery of those who gave birth to a nation founded in liberty and freedom. We remember the courageous patriots who risked everything to create a government that was made by the people, for the people. They fought against all odds to create a free nation where all are created equal. The determined spirit and courage of our Founding Fathers lives today in the heart of every American.
While the hot dogs and hamburgers are grilling, remember why we are celebrating, and cherish the freedoms we enjoy each and every day.
Chief Financial Officer
State of Florida
I remind you to beware of the dangers of illegal and improper fireworks usage, especially in light of our severe drought and the fires that are already afflicting our state. Consider the most recent annual statistics from the National Fire Protection Association:
As you and your family make new memories this Fourth of July, please keep the following tips in mind.
Contact local officials. Check to see if your local community has imposed a ban on private fireworks due to the drought conditions.
Use only approved products. Many dangerous and illegal fireworks, rockets and explosive devices are far too available. These are unlawful for private fireworks displays and are significantly more likely to cause fires.
Control your environment. Sparklers should be used only on sand, concrete or another nonincendiary surface, away from brush, trash or other objects that could catch fire.
Be prepared. Have a fire extinguisher or hose and a bucket of water readily available.
Attend a public fireworks show. Many public displays sponsored by communities or organizations are presented all across Florida.
If you or your family have questions about what is legal in Florida or would like to see additional safety tips, I encourage you to log on to www.myfloridacfo.com/sfm/.
May we all enjoy a safe holiday weekend as we celebrate and honor America’s founders.
Reforms championed by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater this Legislative Session that will help keep money in the pockets of hardworking Floridians go into effect today, July 1. The new laws will increase transparency and accountability in state budgets and contracting.
In an effort to give Floridians clear and complete access to government budgets, CFO Atwater worked with legislative leaders to develop a plan for streamlined coding and the use of clear financial information by all local governments. This initiative will allow Floridians to easily evaluate state financial information, as well as compare their local government’s financial practices with other government entities.
The new law gives CFO Atwater responsibility for promoting consistency and greater transparency in reporting of financial information along with providing public access to all state contracts. This new level of transparency in state contracting will enable Floridians to access clear information on how their tax dollars are being spent and hold their elected officials accountable.
On Wednesday, I stopped by Lee & Rick's in Orlando for lunch and met General Manager Gene Richter. Lee & Rick’s opened in 1950 and has become a staple in the area providing jobs for their neighbors for more than 60 years. In fact, they will be celebrating 61 years in business this fall! I had the chance to eat some delicious oysters and hear how business is doing in the area. Thanks to Gene and the rest of the staff for their insight on the importance of small businesses in Florida’s economy.
Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater on Monday announced three arrests in a Tampa insurance fraud case involving the theft of thousands of dollars in auto insurance premiums. Suspects Bella Jenkins, Torrance Blake and David Ball, employees of Insurance Plus located in Temple Terrace, surrendered to authorities and were charged with insurance fraud and selling insurance without a license.
“As Floridians, we rely on the honesty and integrity of reputable insurance agents and agencies to help protect our property,” said CFO Atwater. “My department is committed to hunting down these fraudsters who choose to play outside the rules and aim to take your hard-earned money.”
In August 2010, the Florida Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, began an investigation into Tampa insurance agency Insurance Plus. The division received complaints that customers were given automobile insurance coverage quotes by phone only to have the price for the coverage increase greatly at the time of purchase. Many customers paid the additional money and left the agency believing that they had insurance coverage with either Kingsway Amigo or Security National Insurance.
Customers later learned that they had no coverage, either by getting pulled over for a traffic violation and being told that their license was suspended for not having insurance, or by getting notices from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles advising of the lack of coverage. Further investigation determined that payments customers made were never sent to Kingsway Amigo or Security National Insurance.
The victims stated that the owner of the business, Bella Jenkins, a licensed insurance agent, was not present when they went to Insurance Plus in Temple Terrace, but the codefendants, David Ball and Torrance Blake, conducted insurance business with consumers without the required licenses.
All suspects were booked into Hillsborough County jail and released on bond. If convicted, they each face up to five years in prison per charge.
Anyone with information regarding suspected insurance fraud is asked to call 1-800-378-0445. Individuals who provide tips can remain anonymous and are eligible for a reward of up to $25,000 for information that directly leads to an arrest and conviction in an insurance fraud scheme. The Department of Financial Services to date has awarded almost $250,000 to approximately 40 citizens as part of its Anti-Fraud Reward Program.
We are 31 days into the 2011 hurricane season, and the first named storm has made its debut. Tropical Storm Arlene made landfall Thursday morning along the northeastern coast of Mexico.
While Tropical Storm Arlene did not impact Florida, this storm should serve as a reminder to get prepared now. Insurance companies stop accepting new applications or refuse to increase coverage when a tropical storm or hurricane watch or warning has been issued by the National Hurricane Center for any part of the state of Florida. This suspension of coverage continues for the time period that hurricane conditions exist anywhere in Florida and ends 72 hours following the termination of the last hurricane watch or warning issued for any part of Florida by the National Hurricane Center.
Residents and small business owners should take the time now to review their insurance policies with a licensed insurance agent to ensure they have the coverage they need.