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FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER ALEX SINK'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 4, Number 27, July 6, 2007

Dear Floridian:

Our country has remained safe and strong, thanks to the sacrifices of our American heroes, our veterans and our troops, many of whom are serving far from home and will not be with their families and friends this Fourth of July. Please remember our brave military service men and women this week.

Also keep our first responders in mind as you celebrate. The events of Sept. 11, 2001, brought into clear focus the sacrifices they make and the risks they take every time they respond to a call. Further, during the past several years, Florida's first responders have been the first on the ground following eight hurricanes, numerous tornadoes and hundreds of wildfires.

Many of you may choose to celebrate with fireworks or sparklers this year, but remember that fireworks are illegal to use in Florida except with a permit or a specific exemption, and can be very dangerous both to people and property. Sparklers, hundreds of which are legal to use in Florida, can be equally dangerous. Firefighters responded to more than 300 incidents involving illegal fireworks and sparklers last year, the majority of those around the Fourth of July holiday.

Protect your family and loved ones and celebrate safely, and be extra cautious of starting a fire that could produce extra work for our first responders this holiday.


Sincerely,

--Alex Sink


CFO SINK URGES FLORIDIANS TO CELEBRATE JULY 4th SAFELY
Hundreds of accidents reported every year from fireworks and sparklers

Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Alex Sink is urging Floridians to comply with fireworks laws as they make their Fourth of July plans, in light of the high risk of injury and the state’s recent wildfires.

Florida fire departments last year reported that they responded to 250 incidents involving sparklers and 90 incidents involving fireworks.

“Floridians must think about fire safety as they celebrate this Fourth of July,” said CFO Sink. “With the serious risk of injury and the danger of wildfires, we owe it to our families and our firefighters to be extra cautious.”

Anyone using fireworks must have a permit from their local government or for certain agricultural purposes be exempted by law. Without a permit, it is illegal in Florida to use fireworks, which include: shells and mortars, multiple tube devices, Roman candles, rockets and firecrackers, when such use is not in strict compliance with Chapter 791.012, Florida Statutes. Floridians should not sign “waivers” in order to purchase fireworks. Signing a waiver will not clear you of responsibility should you be caught illegally using fireworks, which is a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

There is still a risk of injury with the use of legal sparklers. When lit, some sparklers can reach temperatures between 1,300 and 1,800 degrees - at least 200 degrees hotter than a standard butane lighter.

For a list of hundreds of sparklers that are legal to use in Florida, as well as safety tips, visit the State Fire Marshal’s web site at 2007 Sparklers List.
To celebrate safely, CFO Sink advises Floridians to follow these precautions:

  • Use sparklers and other legal novelties on a flat, hard surface. Do not light them on grass.

  • Use sparklers in an open area. Keep children and pets at least 30 feet away from all ignited sparklers.

  • Light only one item at a time and never attempt to re-light a “dud.”

  • Don’t use any unwrapped items or items that may have been tampered with.

  • Keep a fire extinguisher or water hose on-hand for emergencies. It’s a good idea to drop used sparklers in a bucket of water.


CFO SINK TO STATE EMPLOYEES: MAXIMIZE STATE BONUS BY INVESTING IN DEFERRED COMP 

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink today unveiled a new initiative that gives state employees a way to maximize their annual bonus by investing it in the State of Florida Deferred Compensation Plan.  Administered by the Department of Financial Services, the Deferred Compensation plan is an individual tax-deferred retirement vehicle funded with employee contributions. 
State employees choosing to participate will be able to invest as much as $897 in their own personal retirement account as opposed to receiving their bonus as a lump sum payment of approximately $673.  
“As the state’s Chief Financial Officer, part of my job is to help promote smart financial moves for Floridians,” said CFO Sink, who runs the department.  “By investing their bonus in a retirement account, state employees have the opportunity to put an additional $200 to work for them instead of the government.”  

In the 2007 General Appropriations Act, the Legislature provided for $1,000 bonuses for all full-time state employees, to be paid November 7, 2007.  Until this year, employees were forced to receive bonuses as lump-sum payments, subject to 20 percent federal taxes and Social Security and Medicare taxes.  After all the taxes are deducted, most state employees will be left with a net check of only $673.  

However, state employees taking advantage of the opportunity to invest their bonus will defer having to pay the 20 percent federal government tax and will receive as much as $897 to invest in a retirement account.  Eligible state employees can invest all or part of their bonus and will receive information about this new initiative from the state’s deferred compensation program in early July. 
  
The deferred compensation program allows state employees to delay, or "defer," receiving a portion of their income until a later date and was established by the state under section 457(b) of the Internal Revenue Code.  Deferred compensation participants must notify the program of their choice by September 1, 2007.  State employees who are not currently participants in the state’s deferred compensation plan will also have the ability to participate if they join the program by August 15, 2007.   Participants are able to choose from six investment companies screened by the state to manage their assets.  For more information about the state’s deferred compensation program, please visit www.myfloridadeferredcomp.com.


FIRST MEETING OF THE FINANCIAL LITERACY COUNCIL

The state’s Financial Literacy Council met Monday in Tallahassee to outline their goals, strategies, and identify key issues of which they will focus over the next few years. Monday’s meeting established Obdulio Piedra of Miami-Dade as the council’s chairman and identified the council’s mission statement: to help all Floridians make informed financial decisions.

The next meetings of the council will be held via conference call on July 11, 2007 and in-person meeting in Tampa on August 11, 2007.

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.

For more information on the council visit www.myfloridamoney.com.


TASK FORCE ON CITIZENS PROPERTY INSURANCE CLAIMS HANDLING AND RESOLUTION ISSUES FIRST REPORT

In an ongoing effort to improve Citizens’ policyholder and applicant services, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink convened the fifth meeting of the legislatively-created Task Force on Citizens Property Insurance Claims Handling and Resolution this past Thursday in Tallahassee.

The task force is directed to develop recommendations for Citizens to complete claims remaining from the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons and completed their first report at this meeting. The report has been sent to the Governor, Chief Financial Officer, President of the Senate and Speaker of the House.

The First Report is available on the Web site dedicated to the task force, its duties, appointments, and upcoming meetings. Floridians who would like to learn more about the task force may visit the Web site at http://www.taskforceoncitizensclaimshandling.org.

The Citizens task force was created by House Bill 1A during the 2007 special session of the Florida Legislature. The task force is composed of: Chairman and Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate Bob Milligan; Vice Chairman and Senator Mike Fasano; Representative Julio Robaina; Michael B. Twomey Sr., Attorney; Mike Lancashire, VP, The Main Street America Group; Heather Carruthers, Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe County; and Tim Loftin, VP of Claims at Citizens Property Insurance Corporation.

The Task Force will continue to meet and review Citizens’ action plans and processes to ensure that Citizens’ policyholders receive the highest possible level of service, develop legislation on pertinent issues, monitor the implementation of the Office of Internal Audit and provide interim reports through July 1, 2008.


FORMER INSURANCE AGENT SERVED WARRANT IN JAIL ON ORGANIZED FRAUD CHARGES

A Lake County man, already in jail, was served a warrant on Thursday charging him with organized fraud stemming from allegations that he sold payroll and workers’ compensation insurance products that he was not licensed to sell.

Courtney Pleasant, 27, was served the warrant while incarcerated at the Lake County Jail on unrelated charges. Pleasant, whose license was revoked last September, formerly operated Legendary Insurance & Financial Services, located at 2222 W Main St. in Leesburg.

Pleasant had been licensed to sell life and health insurance products, but represented and promised to provide payroll services and provide workers' compensation insurance products that he was not licensed or authorized to provide. An investigation by the Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, revealed that along with not providing workers' compensation coverage, Pleasant failed to forward the withheld taxes and kept the money for himself. Pleasant withheld over $16,000 in taxes and $2,800 in workers' compensation and administration fees. Once it was determined that Pleasant had not paid the required taxes, the victims were responsible to not only pay the taxes owed, but also pay penalties and interest assessed.

Pleasant was previously arrested on April 14, 2006, and June 9, 2006, for a scheme to defraud and 18 other counts of theft, forgery, and fraud. He was convicted of these charges and sentenced to two years community control, 15 years probation with a 10-year suspended sentence, and was ordered to pay restitution. Since that sentencing, Pleasant violated the conditions of his probation with unrelated criminal charges and remains incarcerated at the Lake County Jail.

The charges against Pleasant are being prosecuted in Lake County by the State Attorney's Office, 5th Judicial Circuit of Florida.

The Department of Financial Services, Division of Insurance Fraud, investigates fraud in all types of insurance, including health, life, auto, property and workers’ compensation. To report information about this case or any other possible insurance fraud case, call the department’s fraud hotline at 1-800-378-0445. A reward of up to $25,000 is offered for information leading to a conviction.
 


Consumer Services Helpline (800) 342-2762
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