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CFO Atwater Applauds Legislative Leaders for Passing Legislation to Keep Money in the Pockets of Floridians

5/7/2011

CONTACT:  Alexis Lambert 
(850) 413-2842

TALLAHASSEE—Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater today commended state policymakers for supporting key legislative initiatives he proposed this Session that will help keep more money in the pockets of Floridians. 

“I applaud Senate President Haridopolos and House Speaker Cannon for their courage and commitment to making tough decisions in these tight economic times,” said CFO Atwater, who monitors the state’s financial health and well-being.  “In addition to setting a budget that ensures we live within our means, state lawmakers championed meaningful reforms that will help keep money in the pockets of Floridians, where it belongs.”

“In his State of the State Address, Governor Scott said, ‘don’t blink,’ and our legislative leaders carried that message throughout session, tackling each obstacle with courage and commitment.”

CFO Atwater said legislative reforms help keep money in the pockets of Floridians by better protecting them from financial fraud and harm, and through increased transparency and accountability in contracting and budgeting.  Key reforms he pursued this Session include:

• Increased Transparency and Accountability (SB 1292): In an effort to make government budgets readily understandable to all taxpayers, the CFO worked with legislative leaders to develop a plan for streamlined coding and the use of compatible financial information by all local governments and educational entities. This initiative will allow citizens to easily evaluate state financial information, as well as compare their local government’s financial practices with other counties, municipalities and school districts.  The CFO will be responsible for establishing a uniform chart of accounts to promote consistency and greater transparency in reporting of financial information. 

“Common sense dictates that government-owned cell phones, vehicles, and other property should be uniformly identified, so that taxpayers can see exactly how their money is being used. Government should be abundantly accessible; complex and confusing labeling and coding of financial information hinders the ability for citizens to hold their government accountable for ill-advised spending. This bill very simply says: no fancy coding, no hiding the ball. My goal in establishing the uniform chart of accounts will be to create a simplified and streamlined system to empower taxpayers.”

(SB 2096) will require public access to a state contract management system created by the CFO. This will enable citizens to access information and documentation relating to contracts procured by governmental entities.

“Sound contracting practices and rigorous fiscal controls are essential to the proper stewardship of taxpayer dollars,” said CFO Atwater. 
 
• Resources to Fight Financial Fraud and Better Protect Consumers (provisions contained in HB 1087 and SB 2132): 
o   Tougher Penalties:  CFO Atwater championed imposing monetary penalties on criminals convicted of automobile insurance fraud and staged automobile accidents. These fraudsters are motivated by financial gain, and the Legislature has removed the potential for such gain by allowing judges to impose strict monetary penalties that can be used for funding additional anti-fraud efforts. 
 
o   Additional Prosecutors:  Additional funding was appropriated for fraud prosecutors in Tampa and Miami, which have been cited by the National Insurance Crime Bureau as two of the top five cities in the country for questionable medical claims associated with staged accidents.  Lawmakers also granted authority to the CFO to pursue grants and donations to further bolster efforts to combat financial fraud, to help lessen the financial burden on taxpayers.
 
“The costs of PIP fraud are passed down to all of us through increased auto insurance premiums,” said CFO Atwater. “These costs are an unacceptable burden on the finances of Floridians who are already struggling. My office is committed to continuing to fight this and other types of fraud.”

“PIP fraud has become an epidemic in the Tampa Bay area, and the additional resources provided by the Legislature will help us bring these criminals to justice,” said Hillsborough County State Attorney Mark Ober.  “I appreciate the efforts of CFO Atwater and the legislature in bringing these additional prosecutors to the Tampa Bay area.”
 
“By providing prosecutors with greater staff and resources to focus on the almost invisible crime of insurance fraud, we can more effectively impact those criminals who are constantly reaching into the pockets of every citizen of the State of Florida.  I want to thank our Chief Financial Officer, Jeff Atwater, for his leadership on this issue and our Legislature for their deep commitment to fighting this insidious crime,” commented Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle.

• Tighter Licensing Requirements for Insurance Agents (HB 1087):  Persons who have committed a felony related to the financial services business will be permanently barred from obtaining an insurance agent, adjuster or agency license.

 “Florida has the largest senior population in the nation, and with that comes a responsibility to protect them, and other hard-working Floridians, from financial harm,” said CFO Atwater.

• Greater Fire Safety Protections for Students coupled with State Savings (HB 331):  Clarifies school inspection responsibilities and ensures that all inspectors have the same high level of training. 
Cost savings measures in the legislation will save higher education institutions and the state approximately $1.3 million annually.  

• Limiting the Role of Government:  As part of the CFO’s push to streamline government and limit its role, Departmental budget reductions include the elimination of middle management positions.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, a statewide elected official and officer of the Florida Cabinet, oversees the Department of Financial Services.  CFO Atwater’s priorities include fighting financial fraud, abuse and waste in government, reducing government spending and regulatory burdens that chase away businesses, and providing transparency and accountability in spending.