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FLORIDA CHIEF FINANCIAL OFFICER ALEX SINK'S WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

Volume 4, Number 30, July 27, 2007

Fellow Floridian:

Reuniting Floridians with their lost assets and precious memories is the number one goal of our Bureau of Unclaimed Property. This week, we were delighted to return some very special heirlooms to their families.
 

·         Purple Heart & Silver Star-- On Tuesday, representatives from the Bureau returned a Purple Heart and Silver Star to Daniel DeVillez , the son of the late Kenneth DeVillez, a Marine who earned the medals for injury and bravery sustained at the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.

·         Rare & Valuable Gold Coin-- On Thursday, the Bureau returned a 1907 Saint Gaudens Double Eagle “High-Relief” $20 gold coin with an estimated value between $25,000 and $90,000 to Phyllis Childers, the daughter of the late Tere Claiborne. The coin was believed to have been given by President Theodore Roosevelt to Phyllis’ great-great-grandfather, Manuel Amador Guerrero, the first president of Panama.


The Bureau of Unclaimed Property actively searches for the rightful owners or heirs to contents from abandoned safe deposit boxes. But when the owners or heirs cannot be found, the safe deposit box contents are auctioned by the state. Proceeds generated at the auction are held in perpetuity for the owner or heirs.
 

Unclaimed Property Auction—Saturday, August 4th, the State of Florida will be holding an Unclaimed Property Auction at 10 a.m. in Orlando in the Florida Hotel and Conference Center at the Florida Mall. A preview of auction items will be held on Friday, August 3, 2007, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Included in over 40,000 items up for auction August 4th are:

  • An un-circulated 1882 silver dollar
  • Baseballs autographed by Hank Aaron and Don Larsen
  • Diamond jewelry
  • Spanish colonial silver coins
  • A $500 bill
  • A platinum ring with a 17 ct. natural sapphire

With nearly eight million accounts, the chances are good we are holding your cash or the cash of someone you know. For more information about the upcoming auction or to search for unclaimed property, please visit www.fltreasurehunt.org.


CFO SINK WORKS TO STREAMLINE HEALTHY KIDS PROGRAM WITHOUT LEGISLATIVE ACTION
Sink creates Ad Hoc Committee to study ways to simplify the program for families

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced the formation of an Ad Hoc Committee for the Florida Healthy Kids Corporation that will examine ways to make it easier for families to enroll in the low-cost health insurance program and increase the number of children the program retains. CFO Sink, who serves as the Chair of the Healthy Kids Board, created the committee in an effort to identify how the Board can streamline the Healthy Kids program without the need for legislative action.

“Right now, families are forced to navigate through a bureaucratic maze—a spaghetti factory, if you will—just to purchase health insurance for their children,” said CFO Sink, who leads the Department of Financial Services. “This committee is the first step to streamlining the program and helping more families ensure their children have access to affordable, quality health care.”

The Florida Healthy Kids program is one of four components of the larger Florida KidCare program, the state’s health insurance program for uninsured children. Florida Healthy Kids allows working families the opportunity to purchase low-cost health insurance for their children ages 5 through 19 years of age. To be eligible for discounted premiums, families must earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, or $40,000 for a family of four.

The federal government provides a two-to-one match for Florida’s Healthy Kids program. Reduced state funding and low enrollment in the program have resulted in the State of Florida losing $139.7 million in federal funding since 1998. Florida’s unused federal match is then dispersed to other states that exceed their projected enrollment. Increasing enrollment and retention in the Healthy Kids program will not only help more children receive preventative health care, but will also reduce the amount of federal funding Florida sends to other states.

During the 2007 Legislative Session, the Legislature was unable to pass legislation to improve the program and make it easier for families to purchase affordable health insurance for their children. Some of the changes sought included increasing accountability, eliminating unnecessary bureaucratic barriers and simplifying the application process for Florida’s families.

With the possibility of statutory change not on the near horizon, CFO Sink has formed this Ad Hoc Committee to research ways to simplify the program and focus it around the needs of families. The Ad Hoc Committee is scheduled to meet on July 30, 2007, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. at The Florida Healthy Kids Corporation office in Tallahassee. The committee will present a final report and recommended administrative rule changes to CFO Sink at the Healthy Kids Board meeting on August 9, 2007, in Hollywood, Florida.

The following individuals have been appointed to the Ad Hoc Committee:

Chris Card, Chairman of Ad Hoc Committee
Lester Abberger, Florida Lobbying Associates
State Representative Loranne Ausley
State Representative Bill Galvano
Sam Bell, Pennington Law Firm
Jay Wolfson, M.D., Director, Florida Health Information Center
Bruce Culpepper, Akerman Senterfitt
Diana Ragbeer, The Children’s Trust
David Marcus, M.D., Pediatric Associates

The Florida Healthy Kids Ad Hoc Committee meeting will be held:

Date: July 30, 2007
Time: 1:00- 5:00 p.m.
Location: The Florida Healthy Kids Corporation
661 East Jefferson Street, 2nd Floor
Tallahassee, Florida


CFO SINK RETURNS RARE CENTURY-OLD $20 GOLD COIN
Most valuable coin ever held by the state’s Unclaimed Property Bureau

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced the return of a 1907 gold coin with an estimated value between $25,000 and $90,000 to the daughter of the late Tere Claiborne. Representatives of the state’s Unclaimed Property program presented the coin Thursday to Phyllis Childers of the City of Lake Worth in Palm Beach County.


“I am pleased to be able to reunite this family with this beautiful historical heirloom," said CFO Sink who oversees the Department of Financial Services and the Bureau of Unclaimed Property (Bureau).

The early twentieth century collectible is a 1907 Saint Gaudens Double Eagle “High-Relief” $20 gold coin. The term “High-Relief” refers to the extreme height that images are raised above the background of the coin, and only 12,367 coins were made due to the extreme difficulty of production. One of the five most sought-after coins in America, President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens for the design in 1906.

The gold coin belonged to Phyllis Childers’ mother, Tere Claiborne, who passed away in 2000. The family searched for years, but was unable to find the coin, which Mrs. Claiborne had placed in a safe deposit box on her way to a bridge game. Phyllis Childers called the coin the “cornerstone of the family,” as it is believed that President Theodore Roosevelt personally gave the coin to Phyllis’ great-great-grandfather, Manuel Amador Guerrero, who was the first president of Panama from February 1904 to October 1908.

The Bureau of Unclaimed Property currently holds unclaimed property accounts valued at more than $1 billion, mostly from dormant accounts in financial institutions, insurance and utility companies, securities and trust holdings. Since the program's inception 46 years ago, the Bureau has successfully reunited owners with more than $1 billion in unclaimed property.

Currently there are 405,415 Unclaimed Property accounts in Palm Beach County totaling $72,060,579.80. Unclaimed property can be claimed for free at any time by the rightful owners or heirs by logging on to www.fltreasurehunt.org or by calling the Bureau at 1-88-VALUABLE. Until claimed, the unclaimed funds are transferred to the state’s School Trust Fund to benefit public schools. Since the program’s inception in 1961, more than $1.5 billion has been transferred to the fund.

The Bureau also receives items that have been abandoned in safe deposit boxes for at least three years and spends up to two years searching for the rightful owners or heirs. The Bureau has had tremendous success in finding owners. In the past year alone, the Bureau returned a record 255,000 accounts valued at more than $171 million. But when owners or heirs cannot be found, the safe deposit box contents are auctioned. While the proceeds from the auctioned items are transferred to the state's Public School Trust Fund, the money is held in the original owner’s name and can be claimed for free at any time.

CFO Sink announced that the Bureau will hold an auction this year in Orlando on Saturday, August 4, 2007, in the Florida Hotel and Conference Center at the Florida Mall. The auction will offer more than 40,000 items including collectibles, jewelry, and historic coins. A preview of auction items will be held on Friday, August 3, 2007, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The auction will be held on Saturday, August 4, from 10 a.m. until all items are sold. Specific items up for sale include an un-circulated 1882 silver dollar, baseballs autographed by Hank Aaron and Don Larsen, diamond jewelry, Spanish colonial silver coins, a $500 bill, and a platinum ring with a 17 ct. natural sapphire.

Participation is open to all Floridians. To participate in the preview and auction, potential bidders will be required to register with the auctioneer and provide a valid ID with current address and refundable $100 cash deposit that can also be applied to any purchases. Most bank debit cards are permitted for payment of the $100 deposit. Payments for purchases must be made with cash, traveler's check, most bank debit cards, or cashiers check made payable to Fisher Auction Co. For additional information on terms for participating, please visit http://www.fltreasurehunt.org/ and click on “upcoming auction."


CFO SINK RETURNS A PURPLE HEART AND SILVER STAR TO THE FAMILY OF A FLORIDA MARINE  

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced the return of a Purple Heart and a Silver Star to the son of the late Kenneth DeVillez, a Marine who earned the medals for injury and bravery sustained at the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II.  Representatives of the state’s Unclaimed Property program presented the medals Tuesday to Daniel DeVillez and his wife Beverly at their residence in Homosassa. 

“For this family, these medals are a lasting legacy of their father and his honorable service to our country," said CFO Sink who oversees the Department of Financial Services and the Bureau of Unclaimed Property (Bureau).  “I’m so pleased our department was able to reunite Beverly and Daniel with these priceless family heirlooms.” 

Upon Private First Class DeVillez’ death, his wife, Madaline, placed the medals into a bank safe deposit box.  Mrs. DeVillez later was stricken with Alzheimer’s and lost track of the box’s whereabouts, leaving the family desperately searching for the missing medals.  After her death, the family pursued looking for the items for several years to no avail.  The family had lost hope of ever finding their father’s medals until they got a call a few weeks ago from the Bureau.   

The Bureau of Unclaimed Property currently holds unclaimed property accounts valued at more than $1 billion, mostly from dormant accounts in financial institutions, insurance and utility companies, securities and trust holdings.  Since the program's inception 46 years ago, the Bureau has successfully reunited owners with more than $1 billion in unclaimed property.   

Currently there are 21,608 unclaimed property accounts for a total of $3.3 million in Citrus County, 8,914 accounts for $1.2 million in Hardee County, 23,050 accounts for $3.4 million in Hernando County, 22,551 accounts for $4 million in Highlands County, 357,496 accounts for $47.4 million in Hillsborough County, 61,463 accounts for $10.1 million in Manatee County, 96,615 accounts for $14 million in Pasco County, 218,735 accounts totaling $40 million in Pinellas County, 124,912 accounts for $15.4 million in Polk County, and 90,798 accounts for $17 million in Sarasota County. 

Unclaimed property can be claimed for free at any time by the rightful owners or heirs by logging on to www.fltreasurehunt.org or by calling the Bureau at 1-88-VALUABLE.  Until claimed, the unclaimed funds are transferred to the state’s School Trust Fund to benefit public schools.  Since the program’s inception in 1961, more than $1.5 billion has been transferred to the fund.   

The Bureau also receives items that have been abandoned in safe deposit boxes for at least three years and spends up to two years searching for the rightful owners or heirs.  The Bureau has had tremendous success in finding owners.  In the past year alone, the Bureau returned a record 255,000 accounts valued at more than $171 million.  But when owners or heirs cannot be found, the items are auctioned.  While the proceeds from the auctioned items are transferred to the state's Public School Trust Fund, the money is held in the original owner’s name and can be claimed for free at any time. 

CFO Sink announced that the Bureau will hold an auction this year in Orlando on Saturday, August 4, 2007, in the Florida Hotel and Conference Center at the Florida Mall.  The auction will offer more than 40,000 items including collectibles, jewelry, and historic coins.  A preview of auction items will be held on Friday, August 3, 2007, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.  The auction will be held on Saturday, August 4, from 10 a.m. until all items are sold.  Specific items up for sale include an un-circulated 1882 silver dollar, baseballs autographed by Hank Aaron and Don Larsen, diamond jewelry, Spanish colonial silver coins, a $500 bill, and a platinum ring with a 17 ct. natural sapphire. 

Participation is open to all Floridians.  To participate in the preview and auction, potential bidders will be required to register with the auctioneer and provide a valid ID with current address and refundable $100 cash deposit that can also be applied to any purchases.   Most bank debit cards are permitted for payment of the $100 deposit.  Payments for purchases must be made with cash, traveler's check, most bank debit cards, or cashiers check made payable to Fisher Auction Co.  For additional information on terms for participating, please visit http://www.fltreasurehunt.org/ and click on “upcoming auction.”


CFO SINK TAKES LEGAL ACTION TO SUPPORT MINOUCHE NOEL AND FAMILY

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink filed a complaint asking for a declaratory judgment from the Leon County Circuit Court regarding “The Noel Relief Act,” or Chapter 2007-261, Laws of Florida (House Bill 593). At issue are competing claims for the $8.5 million appropriated by the Florida Legislature to Minouche Noel and her family, which are in direct conflict with the Legislature’s intended payment of the claims bill.

As the state’s constitutional officer with the duty to settle accounts of the State of Florida and draw warrants to pay the state’s financial obligations, CFO Sink is asking the Leon County Circuit Court to affirm the intent of the Legislature. Specifically, the court will determine the rights of all parties to the $8.5 million claim so that CFO Sink may issue swift payment to the Noels. Additionally, CFO Sink is asking the Leon County Circuit Court to create a special needs trust with a court-appointed trustee, without which, she is legally unable to pay Noel for her damages as the Legislature intended.

CFO Sink also filed today an amicus curiae motion, Latin for “friend of the court,” with the Broward County Circuit Court in support of Minouche Noel and her family. CFO Sink asked the court to deny the motions by Minouche Noel’s attorneys to reopen her case, originally filed in 1990, and to file a lien against the Noels. A hearing on the motions filed by Minouche Noel’s attorneys is scheduled for Monday, July 30, 2007.

“We’ve asked the Broward and Leon County Circuit Courts to support our motions and resolve this matter swiftly,” said CFO Sink, who leads the Department of Financial Services. “My heart goes out to Ms. Minouche Noel and her family, who have suffered far too long after an incident of medical malpractice almost two decades ago.”

At six months of age, Minouche Noel was left paralyzed after a medical malpractice incident at a public medical facility in 1989. It wasn’t until 1999 that Minouche Noel was awarded $8.5 million for injuries and damages. Under Florida law, any court judgment exceeding $200,000 in a negligent claims case against the government can only be paid by an act of the Legislature.

During the 2007 Legislative Session, the Legislature passed a claims bill to compensate Minouche Noel and her family for their losses, $6.5 million in a special needs trust fund for Minouche Noel and $2 million for her parents. The Legislature specifically limited the payment of attorneys’ fees to $1,074,667 and lobbyists’ fees to $85,000. Recently, however, the Noel’s lawyers have taken legal action in effort to increase their compensation beyond that which was specified under the claims bill. The Noels’ attorneys are seeking an additional $676,000 beyond that which was authorized by the Legislature, which would be taken out of the damages awarded to the parents.

Last week, Senate President Ken Pruitt and House Speaker Marco Rubio sent CFO Sink a letter of legislative intent asking her to take legal action to protect the interests of the Noels.


MY SAFE FLORIDA HOME ADDS NEW HELPLINE SPECIALISTS
Program improving customer service and reducing hold time for Florida homeowners

In a continuing effort to improve customer service, Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced the My Safe Florida Home (MSFH) program has added 12 helpline specialists - doubling the resources - to assist homeowners inquiring about the program through its toll free helpline. Since the MSFH program expanded statewide in April, the helpline has received an increased number of inquiries from new and current applicants. With the additional staff, the program expects homeowners seeking a free wind inspection will be able to reach a specialist more quickly.

“Since taking office in January, we have been working to improve the customer service in the My Safe Florida Home program,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the Department of Financial Services. “The addition of more helpline representatives is yet another way the program is working to better assist Florida’s homeowners.”

The additional helpline specialists will allow the program to handle up to 3,500 more calls per week. The MSFH program is currently handling almost 5,000 calls each week. Consumers should know that hold times to speak to a specialist vary from day to day, with the heaviest call volume on Mondays and Tuesdays. The program receives fewer phone calls mid- to late-week.

CFO Sink has been working to streamline the program and to provide better customer service to Floridians after the program got off to a slow start in 2006. Florida homeowners can apply entirely online to receive their free wind inspections by visiting the MSFH program’s Web site at www.MySafeFloridaHome.com. Consumers may also apply over the phone at the program’s toll-free helpline at 1-866-513-MSFH (6734).

CFO Sink’s goal is to complete 400,000 free wind inspections over the next two years and, since April 2007, more than 60,000 Floridians have received free wind inspections. Any Floridian who lives in a single-family, site-built home is eligible for a free wind inspection through the program. With a free wind inspection, Floridians will receive a detailed inspection report, learn how safe their homes are and know what they can do to strengthen their homes against hurricanes. Additionally, many Floridians are finding they are eligible for discounts on their wind insurance premiums—without making a single improvement!

The MSFH program also offers eligible homeowners matching grant reimbursements of up to $5,000 to make certain mitigation improvements. In order to be eligible for the program’s matching grant reimbursements, homeowners who sign up now must meet the following requirements under a new law: have received a completed wind inspection; live in a single-family, site-built home with a building permit issued before March 1, 2002; have a valid homestead exemption; have an insured value of $300,000 or less; and be located in the wind-borne debris region. Additionally, while the free wind inspections cover seven potential wind-resistance improvements, matching grants may only be used for opening protections, including windows, exterior doors and garage doors, as well as the bracing of gable ends.

More than 6,000 homeowners are currently working with the MSFH program to harden their homes. To date, 533 homeowners have completed the improvements recommended in their inspection reports and have received a grand total of more than $1.6 million in matching grant reimbursements. Homeowners are being reimbursed for half the cost up to $5,000 on a variety of home improvements, including hurricane shutters, reinforced garage doors and the bracing of gable ends.


FLORIDA COMPLETES PURCHASE TO PROTECT SILVER SPRINGS
New acquisition of more than 1,700 acres will protect Florida First Magnitude Spring

The State of Florida took ownership of more than 1,700 acres, the second and final phase of a more than 4,400-acre purchase near Silver Springs, a part of the Florida First Magnitude Springs Florida Forever project on July 25. A partnership with The Nature Conservancy and Marion County, the purchase from Avatar Properties, Inc. places the land in conservation and helps protect the water quality of Silver Springs.

“The Silver Springs area is an important cultural and natural resource to be preserved and protected for future generations,” said Florida DEP Secretary Michael W. Sole. “This purchase protects one of nation’s largest springs, preserving its water quality and wildlife habitat.”

The acquisition preserves habitat for rare and endangered species, including the bald eagle, Florida black bear and gopher tortoise. With 13 known sinkholes, the area acts as a “recharge area” for one of the largest first magnitude springs in the nation.

The Florida First Magnitude Springs Florida Forever project focuses on land near Florida’s first magnitude springs that discharge more than 100 cubic feet of water per second. Florida’s springs, scattered through northern and central Florida, draw from the Floridan Aquifer, which is the state’s primary source of drinking water. Springs, with clear, continuously flowing waters, are among Florida’s most important natural resources and are famous tourist attractions. Many of the 160 state parks that the DEP manages are even named for the springs, such as Wakulla Springs State Park, Ichetucknee Springs State Park and Blue Spring State Park.

“The State of Florida has taken a great step toward the protection of one of the largest springs in the country and one of the state’s most renowned natural resources,” said Jeff Danter, Florida state director for The Nature Conservancy. “This land purchase will help to buffer Silver Springs from development and preserve its water quality, while also protecting the plants and animals that live there.”

The Florida Springs Initiative, established by the Florida Legislature in 2001, is the first comprehensive, coordinated plan to restore and protect Florida’s more than 700 freshwater springs. Last year the Florida Springs Initiative set aside more than $300,000 to protect spring ecosystems, water quality and flow within Florida’s award-winning state park system.

The 10-year, $3 billion Florida Forever program established by the Florida Legislature in 1999 conserves environmentally sensitive land, restores waterways and preserves important cultural and historical resources. With more than two million acres of land conserved through Florida Forever and its predecessor, Preservation 2000, the state is increasing public access to recreation lands, connecting communities with green space and expanding natural corridors to safeguard wildlife.

The Nature Conservancy is a leading international, nonprofit organization that preserves plants, animals and natural communities representing the diversity of life on Earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive. With funding from the voter approved Florida Forever program and generous donors, the Conservancy has helped protect more than 1.2 million acres in Florida since 1961.

In addition, Silver Springs has served as the setting for the “Sea Hunt” television series starring Lloyd Bridges and many feature films, including “Creature from the Black Lagoon.”

For more information, visit http://www.dep.state.fl.us/mainpage/programs/florida_forever.htm.


CFO SINK ANNOUNCES FUTURE INITIATIVE TO IMPROVE THE RECORDKEEPING OF CIVIL REMEDY NOTICES

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink announced her plan to improve the Department of Financial Services’ recordkeeping of civil remedy notices and the resolutions of these disputes between policyholders and insurance companies. Currently, the system consists of cumbersome paper-files of hundreds of thousands of medical, legal and insurance documents. CFO Sink has ordered her department to begin working on a more accessible electronic database, allowing consumers or their attorneys the opportunity to fulfill their statutory obligations entirely online.

CFO Sink’s revamp of the civil remedy notice compliance requirements comes on the heels of concerns over the recordkeeping practices established under the previous administration. After being made aware of growing concerns, CFO Sink immediately ordered the protection of all public records and a full review of her department’s role in the receipt of civil remedy notices and the resolutions of the disputes.

“I am pleased that despite initial concerns, it has always been the policy of the Department of Financial Services to retain all civil remedy notices, materials included with the initial filings and the final resolutions,” said CFO Sink, who oversees the department. “But I am not satisfied that these records have been used to the benefit of Florida consumers. We will be upgrading our systems with the goal of helping regulators quickly spot trends in market conduct.”

Floridians wanting to take legal action against an insurance company first must file a civil remedy notice with the department, which is also required to keep a record of the resolution of the consumer’s dispute. Last year, the department received more than 16,719 individual filings of civil remedy notices.

By creating an electronic, web-based system for consumers having to file civil remedy notices, CFO Sink is simplifying the requirements for Floridians and eliminating the unwieldy paper-based system that currently prevents the swift observation of insurance marketplace trends. The future streamlined database will enable the CFO to generate reports about the types of legal action consumers are planning to file against insurance companies, and it is CFO Sink’s intention to share this data with the Office of Insurance Regulation and Insurance Consumer Advocate, General Bob Milligan.

In many instances, lawyers have also sent extraneous legal documents after the civil remedy notice was filed with the department, which often contain consumers’ personal medical and insurance information. CFO Sink’s electronic system will ensure that Floridians’ confidential information is protected, while providing essential information about consumer disputes.


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