Consumer eViews
FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER ALEX SINK'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 4, Number 18, May 4, 2007

Dear Floridian:

The 2007 Legislative session, my first, drew to a close today.  What a truly exciting time to have been in Tallahassee!  Lawmakers and citizens should be proud of many of the changes made this session and the bi-partisan way issues were addressed. A few of this sessions’ legislative victories included: increasing protections for Florida’s military from deceptive insurance practices, adding additional insurance experts to the Office of the Insurance Consumer Advocate and improving the state’s My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program to make it more efficient, and able to reach out to more Florida homeowners.

I am sorry to see that critical legislative changes to the KidCare program did not pass. We will continue to work for affordable health care for all Floridians.

The Legislature will return in June to address legislation to grant property tax relief to homeowners, and I am hopeful that the additional time will allow for a well-thought-out and long-lasting proposal.  I look forward to working with lawmakers during special session between June 12-22 and continuing to safeguard Floridians’ tax dollars.

Sincerely,

--Alex Sink


FLORIDIANS MUST BE CAUTIOUS OF WILDFIRE CONDITIONS 

On the eve of Arson Awareness Week, May 6-12, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who also serves as State Fire Marshal, is calling on Floridians to take precautions with their property and promising aggressive action against anyone found responsible for arson. Floridians should be aware that the current extra-dry conditions are serving as fuel for wildfires across the state. 

“Our landscape is extremely dry and vulnerable to forest fires,” said CFO Sink.  “I am urging Floridians to take precautions to protect their families and homes, take steps to ensure they are practicing fire safety and to immediately report suspected arson.” 

Geography, fuel sources, and weather all influence the spread of wildfire, but statistics show that trimming and cleaning vegetation and properly storing flammable materials as far as possible from your home can profoundly improve your home’s chances of surviving a wildfire.  CFO Sink is urging Floridians to take the following precautions if their home is threatened by wildfire:  

  • Keep a radio on for updates. Remove combustible items from around your home, including lawn and poolside furniture, umbrellas, fabric awnings, tarp coverings, firewood, fuel tanks, and fuel-powered equipment.

  • Place valuables that will not be damaged by water in a pool or pond.

  • Close all doors and windows inside to prevent draft.

  • Take down flammable drapes, curtains, and close Venetian blinds.

  • Close gas valves and turn off all pilot lights.

  • Turn on a light in each room for visibility in case of heavy smoke.

  • Leave sprinklers on roofs or anything that might be damaged by fire, including fuel tanks.

  • Be ready to evacuate family and pets when fire nears or when instructed to do so by local officials.

  • Report suspected arson by calling 1-877-662-7766 (1-877-NOARSON).


CFO SINK HONORS DECORATED MILITARY RESERVIST, STATE REPRESENTATIVE MICHAEL SCIONTI

In admiration of his commitment to military service, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink proposed a resolution at the Florida Cabinet meeting to honor State Representative Michael Scionti of Tampa. Rep. Scionti is a Captain in the United States Army Reserve and has been awarded both the Army Commendation Medal and the Bronze Star for exceptional meritorious performance of duty in ground combat operations.

Rep. Scionti served two tours of duty prior to his November election to District 58 of the Florida House of Representatives, and was recently called for a third tour two weeks into the 2007 legislative session.

“I am proud to honor one of our newest legislators, who continues to answer the call of duty in Army Reserve after his election to public office,” said CFO Sink. “Rep. Scionti, like so many of our military reservists, has selflessly risked his life while defending our great nation and it is an honor to recognize him for both his military and public service today.”

"This is a tremendous honor and I am deeply humbled by the Governor and Cabinet's kind words of support and gratitude,” said Rep. Scionti. “As with so many who serve their communities or their country in the armed forces, I proudly do so because I feel it is my duty and I take great pride in having the opportunity to serve both."

Representative Michael Scionti (D-58) – Rep. Scionti served as an Assistant Attorney General, Assistant State Attorney, and Assistant Statewide Prosecutor, distinguishing himself by successfully prosecuting drug traffickers and violent felony offenders, as well as prosecuting white-collar corruption and organized crime. In 2000, Rep. Scionti was commissioned as an officer in the United States Army Reserve. After terrorists attacked our nation on September 11, 2001, he was called to active duty in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Noble Eagle with the Third Infantry Division, and was again called to active duty in support of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom in 2003 with the Third Infantry Division. He returned home, along with the members of the Combined Joint Task Force Seven, and received the Army Commendation Medal and the Bronze Star for exceptional meritorious performance of duty in ground combat operations. Rep. Scionti was elected to the Florida House in 2006 and again was called to active duty two weeks after the 2007 legislative session began.


CFO ALEX SINK CONGRATULATES LEGISLATURE FOR IMPROVING MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME PROGRAM

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink applauded the Legislature’s passage of HB 7057, which makes improvements to the state’s My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program.  CFO Sink leads the department administering the program, the Department of Financial Services, and has been working with legislative leadership to make the program more efficient for Florida homeowners.  

“The measures passed today by the Legislature will allow the My Safe Florida Home program to serve more Floridians and to boost our efforts to educate homeowners about the importance of mitigation,” said CFO Sink. “As Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, I look forward to increasing awareness about the financial and safety benefits available to Floridians who take steps to harden their homes.” 

HB 7057 was sponsored by State Representatives Anthony Trey Traveisa (R-Tampa), Michael Grant (R-Port Charlotte), Robert “Rob” Schenck (R-Spring Hill) and James “Jim” Waldman (D-Coconut Creek) and now heads to Governor Charlie Crist for his signature.  State Senator Bill Posey (R-Rockledge) sponsored SB 2596, the Senate companion. 

After being streamlined to provide better service and expanded statewide, the MSFH program in April resumed offering eligible Floridians free wind inspections.  More than 50,000 homeowners are on the program’s waiting list and these homeowners should expect to be served by the end of the summer.  Any Floridians on the waiting list who have not heard from a participating wind inspection firm by June 30, 2007, should contact the MSFH program’s toll-free helpline at 1-866-513-MSFH (6734).   

New applicants can apply over the MSFH program’s Web site at www.MySafeFloridaHome.com or over the program’s toll-free helpline at 1-866-513-MSFH (6734), but should not expect to receive a free wind inspection before August 2007, as the more than 50,000 pilot phase applicants have first priority.  However, Floridians who are not interested in participating in the MSFH program and are willing to pay the $150 fee for a wind inspection, can visit the Web site to learn how they can contact one of the MSFH program’s 11 wind inspection firms directly.  

To date, the MSFH program has awarded nearly $200,000 to 88 Florida homeowners who hardened their homes against hurricanes through the MSFH program.  The homeowners, who received free wind inspections during the pilot phase of the program, are being reimbursed for half the cost of a variety of home improvements, including hurricane shutters, reinforced garage doors and roof enhancements.  More than 5,100 Floridians are currently working on mitigation improvements through the MSFH program and will receive their matching grants once the work has been completed.  

The MSFH program helps Floridians identify how they can strengthen their homes and reduces the overall potential for hurricane damage in our state. In addition to providing education about how to better mitigate Florida homes, the program offers eligible homeowners free wind inspections by trained wind inspectors.  Homeowners who have received these inspections also have the opportunity to apply for a matching grant to make recommended improvements.


CFO SINK APPOINTS FINANCIAL LITERACY COUNCIL

New Financial Literacy Council will work to educate Floridians about important financial issues

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink appointed nine Floridians to serve on the state’s first Financial Literacy Council. The Council was created by the Florida Legislature in 2006 to provide a single state resource to the general public on financial literacy.

“As the Chief Financial Officer, one of my highest priorities is educating consumers about money,” said CFO Sink. “I am pleased to appoint nine highly qualified individuals to the Financial Literacy Council, and I look forward to working with them to empower Floridians to take control of their financial futures.”

CFO Sink will use the Financial Literacy Council to help educate Floridians about important financial issues, such as avoiding excessive debt, the importance of saving, making sound investment decisions and planning for retirement. Financial literacy education is essential, as recent news reports show that American consumers are living paycheck to paycheck and spending every dollar they earn. In fact, the U.S. government recently calculated consumer savings at the lowest levels since the Great Depression. In essence, too many consumers are spending more than they earn.

The Council, authorized in 2006 by House Bill 825, was created to study the financial problems that affect consumers, particularly young persons, seniors, working adults and small business owners, which arise from a lack of basic knowledge of financial issues. The Council will also develop recommendations to aid CFO Sink’s department-- the Department of Financial Services-- in developing programs and resources aimed at increasing financial literacy among Floridians.

The following nine individuals have been appointed to the state’s Financial Literacy Council:

Paul Auslander, CFP, President, American Financial Advisors (Orlando)
James R. De Santis, M.Ed., Executive Director, Florida Council on Economic Education (Tampa)
Liana Fox, Ph.D., Professor, Hillsborough Community College (Tampa)
Richard George, President, Junior Achievement of West Central Florida (Safety Harbor)
Cassandra J. Grayson, M.Ed., Sr. Vice President, Administration, Florida Credit Union League (Tallahassee)
Doug Heinlen, Member of Florida Executive Council, American Association of Retired Persons (Sarasota)
Deidre Newton, M.B.A, President and CEO, Community Real Estate Services, Inc. (West Palm Beach)
Obdulio Piedra, Miami-Dade Market President, Great Florida Bank (Pinecrest)
Dulce M. Suarez-Resnick, Senior Account Manager, HBA Insurance Group (Miramar)

CFO Sink is a strong proponent of financial literacy. Through outreach coordinators, the Department of Financial Services aggressively reaches out to local communities to educate consumers on topics such as the wise use of credit cards for teens, credit card identity theft, hurricane preparedness, small business security, life insurance and first-time homebuyer workshops.


CFO SINK APPLAUDS FLORIDA LEGISLATURE FOR INCREASING PROTECTIONS FOR FLORIDA’S MILITARY FROM DECEPTIVE INSURANCE PRACTICES

The Florida Legislature passed House Bill 1381, which allows the Department of Financial Services and the Financial Services Commission to adopt formal rules that increase protections against deceptive insurance practices for military service men and women.

Expressing her appreciation for passing one of her legislative priorities, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink issued the following statement:

“Today, the Legislature showed its deep appreciation for the many sacrifices made by Florida’s service men and women by ensuring they and their families are protected from misleading sales practices, unnecessary life insurance policies, and misrepresented products. As Chief Financial Officer, I will work to adopt the strongest possible protections for Florida’s military men and women, who deserve to receive only the best financial services and products.”

Sponsored by State Representative Garrett Richter (R-76), HB1381 now heads to Governor Charlie Crist for his signature. State Senators Dave Aronberg (D-27) and Don Gaetz (R-4) sponsored the Senate companion, SB 2702.


CFO SINK ENCOURAGING LEGISLATURE TO RESOLVE IMPASSE ON KIDCARE

With less than three days remaining in the Legislature and no agreement on legislation that would improve the KidCare program, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink urged the House and Senate to resolve the current stalemate, which threatens to undermine the work of Florida’s Congressional Delegation in reauthorizing federal funding for the program.

After working Wednesday with children’s advocates and other interested parties to identify common ground, CFO Sink appealed to the Legislature to pass legislation that would simplify the program and make it easier for families to purchase affordable health insurance for their children.

In addition, CFO Sink offered the following statement:

“As Chief Financial Officer and Chair of the Healthy Kids Board, I am committed to working with the Legislature to streamline the application process and make it easier for families to participate. I urge the House and Senate to not give up on the chance that we can pass legislation this week that will help more children get access to health care.

“There are several good ideas about how to reform the program, but we cannot lose sight of our overall goal to put the needs of Florida’s families first. The cost of doing nothing — more unfunded emergency room care and sick children that cannot learn — is too high. We simply cannot doom Florida’s children to another year trapped in the spaghetti factory that is the current KidCare program.”


STATE FIRE MARSHAL’S OFFICE, TALLAHASSEE FIRE DEPARTMENT TO CONDUCT MOCK VEHICLE ARSON INVESTIGATION

Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink along with the Division of State Fire Marshal and the Tallahassee Fire Department will conduct a mock vehicle arson investigation beginning at 10 a.m., Wednesday, May 9, 2007. The event is part of Arson Awareness Week, May 6-12. The national theme is “Vehicle Arson: Who Pays for This Crime?”

CFO Sink will participate in the mock investigation and discuss how the public can help prevent this costly crime.

The investigation will begin at the Tallahassee Fire Department’s training facility, located at 2964 Municipal Way in Tallahassee, where a car will be set on fire and then arson investigators, including a K-9 detection team, will demonstrate how they investigate and collect evidence to prove arson. Media then will be invited to follow the collected evidence to the state arson laboratory near Quincy to see firsthand how evidence is verified in order to be presented for criminal prosecution.

Mock Vehicle Arson Investigation
Wednesday, May 9, 2007:
Time: 10:00 am – until
Location: Tallahassee Fire Department Training Facility
2964 Municipal Way, Tallahassee
Bureau of Forensic Fire and Explosives Analysis
"The Arson Laboratory"
38 Academy Drive, Havana

(Take Route 90 West to the Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy, then an immediate right)


“BE PREPARED” BOY SCOUTS HOLDING CAMPOREE AT THE FLORIDA STATE FIRE COLLEGE

On most days, the training fields and classrooms at the Florida State Fire College in Ocala are filled with firefighters. This weekend will be different.

Dave Casey, Bureau Chief at the Fire College, announced that approximately 170 Boy Scouts will be occupying the campus beginning Friday evening. Scouts from the Marion County District will be arriving for their Spring Camporee. As they arrive, a strange sight will be showing up on the campus - tents. Each of the 9 troops represented will be establishing their own camps for the stay through Sunday.

On Saturday, staff from the Fire College, Marion Community Technical, Adult Education, and the Ocala and Marion County Fire Departments will be assisting in a variety of activities and training for the attendees. Some will be honing the typical Boy Scout skills while other will participate in fire extinguisher drills, flowing fire hoses, and some will enter the maze to see how firefighters operate in unfamiliar buildings. Many of the Scouts will be working on their basic first aid skills which, unknown to them, will become important later. The surprise about dinner time on Saturday evening will be a mock disaster drill to test just how prepared they are.

On Sunday morning, campers will be breaking down camp sites, cleaning up, saying good-bye to new friends, and thinking ahead to the event in 2008.


DFS HOSTS STATE WORKERS' COMPENSATION SEMINAR IN JACKSONVILLE

The Department of Financial Services, Division of Workers’ Compensation (DWC) and Office of the Judge of Compensation Claims (OJCC) held a state seminar today at Florida Community College in Jacksonville as part of a continued and proactive commitment by the Department to provide clarity, support, and accountability to those involved in Florida’s workers’ compensation system.

The seminar is designed to highlight new data possibilities and explore new and creative ways to manage vital claims information such as managing, real-time initiatives that deliver essential claims data to regular, insurers, servicing agents, employers, attorneys, and the medical community in a timely manner.

Last year, the Bureau processed more than 4.5 million medical bills, and currently more than 93% of all data reported to the Division is through electronic submissions.

“We are working hard to inform carriers, data submitters, and employers about new regulations and data reporting requirements and to help ensure their compliance,” said Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, who oversees the department. “The goal in all we do is to ensure workers are being provided the protection they deserve and are entitled to under the law.”

Topics include evaluating judicial performance; options for expedited litigation; electronic petition filings, the division and real-time data; how carriers can use real-time data to perform better; real-time and the audit process; and health care providers reimbursement manuals.


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