Consumer eViews
FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 1, Number 22, May 31, 2004

Memorial Day was officially proclaimed in May 1868 to honor the soldiers who gave their lives in the Civil War.  After World War I, it was a time to honor all American soldiers who died fighting to protect and preserve our freedoms and way of life.    

Today offers us a special opportunity to recognize and reflect on the generations of men and women who for more than two centuries have fought to protect our country and have given their lives to defend our freedoms.  Their love of country and devotion to duty is an inspiration. 

As an army veteran, I am proud to have served my country.     

To remind us of the true meaning of Memorial Day, the "National Moment of Remembrance" encourages all Americans to observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect. 

As we remember the brave patriots who made the ultimate sacrifice for the freedoms we cherish, we must also remember our troops now serving their country at home and abroad.   

It’s amazing to know that we have soldiers serving in 120 countries around the world.   

Our troops know that we cannot take our freedoms for granted.  They know that vigilance is the price we must pay for our liberty.

 We must keep faith as we fight to keep our nation safe.

 My best,

                                                                                     -- Tom Gallagher


GALLAGHER TO FLORIDIANS: GET READY FOR HURRICANE SEASON

With explosive state population growth and experts predicting the formation of more than 12 named Atlantic storms, Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher is issuing a warning to consumers: Prepare now.

“Hurricane season is just days away,” said Gallagher.  The official start of hurricane season is June 1.  “Review your insurance coverage and consider fortifying your home to ensure you are protected if a storm strikes our state.  The time to prepare for a hurricane is now, before the storm.”

The National Weather Service has predicted that 12-15 tropical storms will form this year, with 6-8 becoming hurricanes and 2-4 becoming major windstorms.

Gallagher also advised Floridians to take steps to secure their homes and develop an escape plan.  “Being prepared can save lives, property and a lot of heartache,” Gallagher said.

He also suggested following these storm preparation tips: 

  • Don’t wait until the last minute to buy coverage.  If you’re covered, carefully review your policy, especially its “declarations” page.  Know whether your policy pays the “replacement cost” or “actual cash value” for a covered loss.  The latter rarely will pay enough to replace a destroyed item at today’s prices.  You may want to upgrade your policy if it does not cover the current value of your home and its contents.

  • Be sure you know what your deductible is for hurricane losses.  Most policies now have a hurricane deductible of two to five percent of a home’s insured value.  If your property is damaged, you will be responsible for a portion of the repair costs.

  • Inventory your household items, including receipts, purchase dates and serial numbers.  Photograph or video-tape your possessions.  Keep copies of this information and your insurance policies in a safe place and keep the originals in a safe deposit box.

  • Write down the name, address and claims-reporting telephone number of your insurance company, which may differ from your agent’s contact information.  Keep this information in a safe place and make sure you have access to it if you are forced to evacuate your home.

  • When a hurricane threatens, take action to protect your property.  Buy the materials you need to secure your property and minimize your losses.  Cover your windows with shutters, siding or plywood.  Move vehicles into a garage or carport when possible.  Grills and/or patio furniture should be moved inside.

  • Keep materials such as plywood and plastic on hand in case you need to make temporary repairs after a storm.  Keep receipts for those repairs so that your insurance company can reimburse you.

 Gallagher also alerted Floridians to a new law, recently signed by the governor, designed to increase the availability of homeowners insurance and improve Florida’s ability to recover financially from catastrophic hurricanes.  The legislation makes improvements to Florida’s Hurricane Catastrophe (Cat) Fund, a fund created after Hurricane Andrew to ensure that Florida’s insurance companies could quickly pay homeowners claims after a major hurricane and continue to provide coverage.

The Cat Fund’s capacity will expand from $11 billion to $15 billion in time for the 2004 hurricane season.  The Cat Fund currently provides $11 billion of capacity, or reinsurance, which is insurance for insurance companies.  The lack of reinsurance available through the private market, coupled with the inability of the Cat Fund to grow with the market, has resulted in a number of consumers being dropped by their insurance companies and forced into Citizens Property Insurance Corporation, the state’s insurer of last resort. 

According to Gallagher, several insurance carriers have committed to writing more coverage this hurricane season due to the new legislation, which goes into effect on June 1, 2004.

Representatives from the Department of Financial Services (DFS) will be participating in several Hurricane Preparedness Expos around the state throughout hurricane season.  Consumer guides, tips and other useful information will be available from DFS and other organizations concerned with hurricane safety.

To find out about a Hurricane Preparedness Expo in your area or to request a free guide on “Insuring Your Home,” or brochure on “Natural Disasters,” visit www.MyFloridaCFO.com.  Consumers may also call the department’s toll-free Consumer Helpline at 1-800-342-2762, Monday-Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. 


 

RESTLAWN CEMETERY ORDERED TO FIND BUYER OR LOSE LICENSE

Restlawn Memorial Cemetery, Inc., has agreed to sell its operation to a state-approved buyer or face revocation of its license in response to charges that it failed to maintain gravesites and grounds, resolve long-standing consumer complaints, and deliver paid merchandise, such as tombstones and vaults, to customers.

The agreement, between Restlawn and the Florida Department of Financial Services, was signed May 20, 2004, after being approved by the Board of Funeral and Cemetery Services. The agreement also places Restlawn’s license on six months’ probation and requires the company to pay a $15,000 fine.  A cemetery management consultant also must continue on-site management until the sale or transfer of Restlawn.

Families expect their loved ones to be treated with respect and dignity and to know that what they paid for will be delivered,” said Tom Gallagher, the state’s Chief Financial Officer and head of the Department of Financial Services.  “Blatant disregard for consumers and the law will not be tolerated.”

Other violations cited in the department’s administrative complaint include failure to put money in a reserve account to meet the obligations of pre-need contracts and keep a proper accounting of pre-need and at-need contracts that were sold.  The agreement reached last week requires Restlawn to restore those deficiencies and provide the department with a weekly sales and revenue report.

Restlawn, owned by HIG Corporation, is a for-profit cemetery and has been in operation since 1929.   The cemetery previously entered a consent agreement with the former Department of Banking and Finance in which they committed to resolve consumer complaints, care and maintenance problems, and properly reserve funds.  In January 2003, regulation of cemeteries and funeral homes that sell pre-need merchandise and services transferred to the Department of Financial Services, who determined violations continued.

Consumers with questions and concerns can visit the department’s web site at www.MyFloridaCFO.com or contact the department’s Bureau of Cemetery and Funeral Services’ helpline at 1-800-323-2627.


GALLAGHER, CABINET MEMBERS RECOGNIZE INNOVATIVE STATE EMPLOYEE TRAINING PROGRAM

Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, along with the governor and fellow members of the Florida Cabinet, recognized the first round of participants in an innovative training program designed to ensure quality leadership in state government.

The program, a nine-month course entitled Management Succession Training, was designed in anticipation of a possible leadership vacuum as a large number of the state’s upper level managers are preparing for retirement.  Initiated by CFO Gallagher and developed in conjunction with Tampa-based AchieveGlobal, the program seeks to train the next generation of state government managers.

“This innovative program will allow for a smooth transition as our current managers retire,” Gallagher said.  “By providing this important training in advance of a leadership void, we will ensure that we continue to effectively serve the needs of our citizens.

The first twenty participants were recognized by the Cabinet with a resolution sponsored by Gallagher.  Participants attended monthly seminars, augmented by web-based training modules and online chat sessions with instructors.  A total of 700 managers will receive training in the next five years. 


Florida Department of Financial Services'
Consumer Services HelpLine
(800)342-2762.