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FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER TOM GALLAGHER'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 2, Number 37, September 12, 2005  

As the nation continues to pull together to assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina and to rebuild the devastated areas of the Gulf Coast, we also pause to remember the victims of 9/11 and their families.  Despite the passage of time, we will never forget the victims of those cowardly attacks on our nation.  In the same way our forefathers fought to win our freedom, we must fight against those who threaten to take it away. 

As I watched our first responders carry out multiple missions to help our Gulf Coast neighbors overwhelmed by the hurricane, I thought back to the true heroism the New York City police and firemen displayed by charging toward the burning World Trade Center while everyone else ran to safety.   

Please join my family and me in praying for the victims of the hurricane and for those working hard to help these folks rebuild their lives and their communities.  And also say a prayer to remember the victims of 9/11 and their families, the brave people who valiantly gave their lives in coming to the rescue and for those fighting for freedom in Iraq.

Our nation bands together during difficult and challenging times.  We have overcome momentous obstacles throughout our history, and we will do it again. 

                     -- Tom Gallagher


GALLAGHER ANNOUNCES MILLIONS IN POTENTIAL SAVINGS FOR FLORIDA'S SMALL BUSINESSES

Proposed Decrease in Workers’ Compensation Rates Could Save Millions

The National Council on Compensation Insurance has filed an additional 2.7 percent decrease this year in proposed workers’ compensation rates, for a total decrease of 7.2 percent. Florida's Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher spearheaded passage of Senate Bill 50A in 2003 that reformed the state's workers’ compensation system, including tougher penalties for workers’ compensation fraud and premium evasion.  This year's proposed decrease will be the third consecutive drop in rates since the bill's passage.  If the proposed filing is approved by the Office of Insurance Regulation, the cumulative drop in overall rates since 2003 will total 24.3 percent.

“This is exactly why we fought hard for workers’ compensation reform. Lowering rates and cutting costs will save Florida’s small-business men and women an estimated $237 million that can better be used to continue fueling our state’s record economic growth,” Gallagher said.  “Today’s news is a vindication for all of us who believe the best way government can grow an economy is by lowering the cost and burden placed on Florida’s small-business owners.”

“I have asked Consumer Advocate Steve Burgess to independently review this filing to see if even greater savings for employers is possible.”


FLORIDA NEEDS A MORE COMPREHENSIVE APPROACH TO FIGHTING METH

A message from Tom Gallagher, Florida's State Fire Marshal

Methamphetamine, or “meth,” may be the most destructive drug ever to hit Florida.

It destroys the mental and physical health of the user and robs them of all motivation except to get or make more of the drug.  As a result, it poses a tremendous safety and health risk to our communities.

The process used to make meth is volatile and the chemicals are deadly to both the user and innocent bystanders, which too often are children. 

As Florida’s State Fire Marshal, I have learned that fires and explosions resulting from the manufacturing process have killed and injured hundreds of law enforcement officers and firefighters.  The fumes from such a fire can cause irreversible eye, throat and lung trauma.  And the byproducts of the meth-making process can contaminate the ground where makers often burn or bury their waste.  This poses serious health risks for entire neighborhoods.  Just last month, Osceola County sheriff’s deputies arrested two people caught making meth in a hotel room after a staff member noticed a strong chemical odor.

In August, a convicted sex offender pleaded guilty to operating a meth lab in his Fort Pierce home.  Officers found numerous items in his home that were used in the dangerous process of manufacturing the drug.

In August, the Daytona Beach News Journal reported an Oak Hill woman was caught manufacturing meth in a New Smyrna Beach motel room, one of numerous meth labs reported found in Volusia County so far this year.

The U.S. Department of Justice this week announced the completion of a nationwide raid that resulted in the arrests of 427 people in more than 200 cities and the confiscation of 56 meth labs. They also removed 30 children from the labs. On Thursday, the Miami Herald reported the arrests of 12 traffickers accused of distributing the highly addictive drug at several South Florida locations, including high schools.

Detectives with the Division of State Fire Marshal have already responded to more than 30 meth lab fires and explosions in recent months and needed medical treatment from exposure to meth fumes and chemicals.

As we began responding to more of these incidents, we recognized the need for specialized training for law enforcement officers, firefighters and other first responders.  This spring, we initiated several meth training programs and are continuing to get requests for more.

In response to this rapidly growing problem, I have proposed an expanded, comprehensive strategy to combat meth, including:

• Creation of a Meth Strike Force:  This strike force will assist in response, cleanup and disposal of clandestine meth labs and provide assistance to families destroyed by meth.

• Tougher penalties for meth-related crimes:  Upon posting bond, meth manufacturers often return to their labs and start producing again.  Bond should be denied for meth producers, both to stop the revolving door and give them an opportunity to get the treatment they need to get off the drug.

• Protecting children exposed to meth:  After hearing stories of children crawling in spilled chemicals and playing near toxic burn piles, I am proposing that children of meth manufacturers be immediately removed from the home to get them out of harm’s way and provide them with urgent medical attention.

• Creation of a Victims of Meth Labs Trust Fund:  Cleaning up a site used as a meth lab is expensive.  Not only must the site be cleaned but frequently the areas around the site must be decontaminated as well.  Anyone convicted of manufacturing or distributing meth would be required to forfeit assets to this fund.  

• Creation of a Restoring Lives Trust Fund:  This fund would provide matching funds for private charities and ministries that collect funds to assist meth users and their children.   

• Establish a Florida Meth Tip Line:  Community self-policing is one of the most important weapons in the war on drugs.  An anonymous toll-free tip line could provide leads on meth manufacturers.

I also am proposing penalties for property owners who knowingly fail to disclose that a meth lab was previously found on the premises.  Citizens must be made aware of the possible risk of exposure to hazardous chemicals, especially if they have children.

I also want to pursue heightened penalties for injuries to any first responders because of exposure to a meth lab. Legislation, sponsored by Representative Greg Evers, passed this year and enhanced penalties for meth producers who injure a law enforcement officer, but it did not extend to firefighters and other first responders who are also often called to respond to a meth lab.

The proposals I am putting forth come from those on the ground dealing with this problem every day and are aimed at attacking the problem and maximizing available resources. 

I’m urging Floridians to support these initiatives and encourage your legislators to do the same.

To learn more about training and the meth problem in Florida, log onto http://www.MyFloridaCFO.com/fightmeth.
 


FLORIDA UNVEILS INTERNET PORTAL FOR HURRICANE KATRINA RECOVERY

T o better assist the residents of Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi displaced by the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the State of Florida unveiled a new web portal for information on storm recovery and relief. The web site at www.myflorida.com includes one-stop information on the wide variety of services available for evacuees in Florida and direct access to relief organizations for donating supplies, services and funds.

Those displaced by Hurricane Katrina that found solace and shelter in Florida need fast and easy access to the relief and services offered by governments, local organizations and charities. By providing critical services, we can help those impacted by this storm recover, find work and financial aid and, when ready, transition home to rebuild their communities.
To locate services available to evacuees, make a donation or to volunteer for Hurricane Katrina recovery, visit www.myflorida.com. Visit www.floridadisaster.org for the latest information on Florida's response to the hurricane.


CABINET ACQUIRES 1,651 ACRES WITHIN AIR INSTALLATIONS COMPATIBLE USE ZONE ADJACENT TO NOLF WHITEHOUSE

The Governor and Cabinet, in partnership with the US Navy and the City of Jacksonville, preserved 1,651 acres adjacent to Whitehouse Naval Outlying Field (NOLF.)  As part of the Northeast Florida Timberlands Florida Forever Project, this acquisition ensures that the threat of incompatible uses will not encroach on NOLF Whitehouse.

The acquisition is located within the northern portion of an Air Installations Compatible Use Zone (AICUZ). In addition to NOLF Whitehouse, Cecil Field is included in the same AICUZ boundary. Both facilities provide naval aviators the ability to train as if landing onboard an aircraft carrier.

The purpose of the AICUZ is to achieve compatibility between air installations and surrounding uses, to minimize public exposure to potential safety hazards associated with aircraft operations, and to protect the operational capability of the air installation.
 



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