April 4 2016

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So, How’s That Pollen Working For Ya?

Over the past few weeks of newsletters we’ve shared with you our love for springtime…gardens, flowers and the Tallahassee celebration of springtime, lovingly called the “Springtime Tallahassee Festival”.  But my oh my, how we do pay for our beautiful Florida springtime weather.  As you probably know, our state was named Pascua Florida by explorer Ponce de Leon on Easter in 1513. Translation: “Flowery Easter” or “Flowering Easter” (after Spain’s “Feast of the Flowers” Easter celebration).  Ponce certainly knew what he was doing when he named us the “flower state” and in spring, we are covered with pollen from all those lovely flowers.  And no matter how we try to wipe it away from our cars, furniture and eyes, it is tenacious in its job to pollenate all things.  Thank you, Mother Nature.  But I have to wonder this year, is it just the pollen that is making us cry or are some of those tears coming from the insanity of our presidential election campaign antics?  We see all forms of political craziness here in our capital city and center of Florida politics, but the last few months of presidential campaign politics brings new reasons to cry. Even the most recent fight  involving the defense of the wives of Trump and Cruz is just nuts.  We shake our heads at each new highly televised debacle.  We have some serious things to consider as we move forward to choose the best candidate to lead our country into 2017, and I’m afraid that even after the pollen settles down and the election is over, we may still be crying.


Insurance Commissioner Search Will Resume 


The search for a new Florida Insurance Commissioner ended in an impasse last week between the two key decision-makers: Governor Scott and CFO Atwater.   By law, those two must be in the majority of the four member Florida Cabinet in the hiring or firing of the Commissioner.   Essentially, each has veto power over the other.  And that’s exactly what happened at last Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting.

LMA was there for this unprecedented event.  The Cabinet spent just under an hour interviewing the two final candidates: Jeffrey Bragg, Governor Scott’s sole finalist and one of the CFO’s final two candidates; and state Representative Bill Hager, the CFO’s other finalist.  Afterward, the CFO said “these are two of the most competent insurance minds I’ve experienced” and made a motion to hire Hager with a salary of $190,000.  The Governor simply replied “I will not second it.”

At the Governor’s direction, the Cabinet agreed to reopen the search to new candidates with an application deadline of April 15.  The Governor said he hopes the Cabinet can come to agreement on the successful candidate at its next meeting on April 26.

Current Commissioner Kevin McCarty announced in January that he is stepping down on May 2 from the position that he’s held for the past 13 years to pursue other opportunities.  The new position will pay up to $200,000, which is more than the $134,157 McCarty makes.  LMA will keep you posted as we enter this “Round Two”.

Read More: LMA included in Insurance Journal story on the two finalists for insurance commission.


Florida Senate Demolished    

Senate Chamber Demolition

Now that we have your attention with that headline, this picture is not only real but it is symbolic as well.  All 40 senate seats are up for re-election and with that turnover, the Senate Chambers will be shedding the 1970s look with all those yards of fake-wood laminate, and $5 million later, it will have a new look.

Senate President Andy Gardiner in a recent memo said, “In my view, we are guests in this building and we have an important responsibility to adequately preserve and maintain areas of the Capitol complex designated for use by the Senate and often utilized by students and other civic groups when the Senate is not in Session,” the Orlando Republican said.

The last redo of the House chamber occurred in 1999 under then-Speaker John Thrasher, now Florida State University president. He spent nearly $7 million to renovate the chamber, the speaker’s office and the House Office Building.  The Senate Chamber has received only minimal updates since its original construction in the 1970s with limited carpet and furniture upgrades, and this renovation will boast a new ceiling dome modeled after one in the Old Capitol.

If you want to travel down memory lane for you old timers, call me so we can talk about your memories, or share them with us via email. We’d love to hear your tales, maybe even share a few!


Fraud Investigators Expose Alleged Illegal Activity in Roofing Industry


In our continuing effort to educate our readers on what our state’s fraud fighters are doing, we stay in touch with the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Insurance Fraud and asked them to share with us the cases where they are actively pursuing possible fraud perpetrators.  (See our article in this newsletter about the reorganization of DFS’s sworn law enforcement divisions.)  One such case involves 50-year-old Gary Ronald Graves of Orlando, who on or about February 11th was arrested by insurance fraud investigators on six counts of false and fraudulent insurance claims-waiving deductibles. The state’s case was initiated based upon a Special Investigative Unit (SIU) referral from Tower Hill Insurance Group (THIG). According to THIG, Gary Graves who represented Nationwide Catastrophe Services, Inc. (NCS) and acting on behalf of an NCS contractor intentionally waived the deductible for homeowner Jacqueline Lewis-Edwards, for a roof replacement under her THIG property insurance policy.

Based upon the THIG SIU referral, fraud investigators began investigating Ms. Lewis-Edwards’ claim and further researched Orange County’s construction permit records. The records search revealed nine other homeowners in Ms. Lewis-Edwards’ geographical area that had their roofs replaced by NCS. Six of those homeowners provided sworn statements to fraud investigators indicating that Gary Graves also waived their $1,000 deductibles. The state alleges that by waiving the insurance policy deductibles, Graves violated Chapter 817.234 (7)(d), F.S., which makes such activity a third-degree felony. After claims payments were received and the roofs replaced, NCS filed civil suits against the various insurers seeking additional compensation under the homeowners’ policies. This litigation was a result of the homeowners signing an Assignment of Benefits (AOB) giving the contractor (NCS) the right to seek benefits and act on behalf of the homeowners. The civil suits were initiated and filed without the homeowners’ knowledge. The case against Graves remains pending in Orange County Circuit Court. LMA commends Insurance Fraud Lieutenant Kurt Harmon and his Orlando based team for their excellent work in pursuing this complex fraud case.

If you have a case you want to share so we can all learn from it, please share!


Governor Signs Measure Consolidating DFS

Law Enforcement Divisions


At the request of the Department of Financial Services the 2016 Florida Legislature passed a measure (Senate Bill 908) creating a consolidated law enforcement division. The new Division of Investigative and Forensic Services will be comprised of the former Division of Insurance Fraud, Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigations, Bureau of Forensic Services and the Office of Fiscal Integrity. Just as in the past, investigators handling insurance fraud cases and arson cases will continue to be sworn state-wide law enforcement officers with the authority to conduct investigations, make arrests for criminal violations of state law and carry firearms. The Bureau of Forensic Services will play a key role in supporting DFS’s criminal investigators by helping conduct arson cause and origin scientific studies, in addition to analyses of other physical evidence gathered during the course of investigations. The Office of Fiscal Integrity’s primary function is to conduct criminal investigations into alleged misuse or theft of state funds and assets. If you have any questions about the DFS law enforcement reorganization please contact our office.


 Mental Health and Substance Abuse Legislation


One of the positive stories to come out of the Florida Legislature this session was passage of SB 12 by Senator Rene Garcia (R-Miami Dade), which funds a new concept in the treatment of mental health and substance abuse in Florida that supporters say will enable the criminal justice system to better handle mental illness.

Mental illness is one of the major public health issues in the U.S. and has been associated with an increased risk of death, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).  According to a recent SAMHSA Report, 3.7% of Florida’s adult population (about 576,000 as of 2013-2014 data) had a serious mental illness, similar to the national percentage.  But only 37.3% of Florida adults with any mental illness get treatment – lower than the national average of 42.7%.  In Florida, people who should be in treatment for behavioral or drug abuse problems often end up in jail instead.

The bill, which awaits the governor’s signature at this writing, seeks to improve mental health and substance abuse services by creating a coordinated system of care for those suffering from mental illness or substance use disorder through a “No Wrong Door” system of less red tape.  No matter how someone enters the system, they will get immediate help and future follow-up services.

It allows expanded options for courts to divert the mentally ill to treatment, instead of jail, and to better coordinate communication and care among law enforcement, health professionals, social agencies, prisons, and the courts. It also creates a single, consolidated license to provide both mental health and substance use disorder services and allow psychiatric nurses to prescribe certain medications, to address the nationwide shortage of psychiatrists.  (SB 1336 – spurred in part by recent nationwide shooting incidents – would have directed each county or circuit to develop a system to identify all persons with disorders serious enough for involuntary admission and ensure they receive prompt assessment.  It died in Senate Appropriations).

The job of coordinating this new system will go to Florida’s managing entities, which are nonprofits that oversee state contracts in each of seven regions of the state.  The bill directs them to work with their local counties to create a new system for evaluating people in need.  This year’s budget includes $65 million in new spending on mental health and substance abuse – only a start of what’s needed say some professionals, following a $385 million cut in the state’s mental health services budget since 2011.

The governor has also signed a number of bills expanding the scope of practice for Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioners and Physician Assistants. The goal is to reduce the workload – and higher costs – associated with primary care physicians, especially in the Medicaid program.   A bill that creates a Telehealth Advisory Council to examine cost savings and make recommendations concerning this practice is awaiting the governor’s action.


Total Avoidance of Sun Exposure May be as Dangerous as Smoking


According to research recently published by Dr. Pelle Lindqvist, M.D. and colleagues at Karolinska University Hospital in Huddinge, Sweden, consistent avoidance of sun exposure may shorten life span. Nonsmokers who stayed out of the sun had a life expectancy similar to smokers who soaked up the most rays, according to researchers who studied nearly 30,000 Swedish women over 20 years. This finding indicates that avoiding the sun “is a risk factor for death of a similar magnitude as smoking,” wrote the authors of the article, published March 21 in the Journal of Internal Medicine. Compared with those with the highest sun exposure, life expectancy for those who avoided sun dropped by 0.6 to 2.1 years. Researchers also discovered that women who seek out the sun were generally at lower risk for cardiovascular disease (CVD) and non-cancer related diseases such as diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and pulmonary diseases, than those who avoided sun exposure. One of the major strengths of the study was that results were dose specific – sunshine benefits went up with amount of exposure. The researchers acknowledged that longer life expectancy for sunbathers seems paradoxical to the common thought that sun exposure increases risk for skin cancer. The research did reveal an increased risk of skin cancer, however, the skin cancers that occurred in those exposing themselves to the sun had better prognosis, Dr. Lindqvist said. He also noted that avoiding sun exposure should join smoking, being overweight and lack of physical activity as significant risk factors for poor health.


Fewer Canadian Buyers Lead Drop in International Real Estate Sales in Florida


Florida reflected national real estate trends in 2015 with fewer international sales, but significantly higher dollar volume sales.   Canadians, traditionally the largest buyers ofFlorida real estate, shriveled to just 11% of foreign sales, down from 32% in 2014.

Real estate professionals say the reason for the drop is the strong U.S. dollar, as foreign currencies dwindling against the dollar raised the cost of U.S. homes for international buyers.

Like the nation as a whole, Florida foreign sales declined in 2015, dropping to 44,000 units compared to the 52,300 sold in 2014.  But the dollar volume of those international sales rose to $23.7 billion in 2015 – a 50% increase – far surpassing the national volume growth.  The Chinese spend the most, at an average price of $1,064,800.

While Canadian buyers declined, the number of Venezuelan buyers grew.  They represented 18% of foreign buyers of Florida real estate in 2015, up from just 3% in 2014.

One-fifth of all international sales in the U.S. are in Florida, with South Florida gobbling up half of the state’s sales.  Of all Miami residential sales, 22% went to international buyers (compared to the 4% national average), with 36% of the Miami dollar volume in international sales (compared to 8% national average).


A New Day Coming in Florida Politics


This is a big year for elections in the Florida Legislature.  The primary election is August 30 and the general election is November 8, with the candidate filing deadline on June 24, 2016. All 120 House seats and 40 Senate seats are up for election in 2016.

Heading into the election, the Republican Party holds the majority in the Florida House of Representatives with 39 Democrat seats and 81 Republican seats.  The state representatives who are term-limited in 2016 are: Democratic Party (8): Alan Williams, Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, Mia Jones, Dwayne Taylor, Darryl Rouson, Mark Pafford, Gwyndolen Clarke-Reed, and Hazelle Rogers.   Republican Party (13):  Matt Hudson, Charles McBurney, Janet Adkins, Lake Ray, Charles Van Zant, H. Marlene O’Toole, John Wood, Steve Crisafulli, Ritch Workman, John Tobia, Debbie Mayfield, Kenneth Roberson, and Erik Fresen.

In the Senate the Republicans currently hold a 26-14 margin. The senators who are term-limited in 2016 are: Democratic Party (2): Christopher Smith, Eleanor Sobel. Republican Party (3): Charles Dean, Andy Gardiner, Garrett Richter.

Of course you know we watch these elections very closely and are as involved as our time allows.  It is so very important to have the right folks in these seats, so we encourage you to take the time to research the voting histories of those who are up for re-election, and take a close look at the backgrounds and principles of those candidates who have never served.   This will help you make the best decision for the right individuals who will grow our state as we move ahead in the coming years.  We’ll keep you updated on the happenings as they occur.  See you again on April 18.

Lisa and the LMA Team


Upcoming Events


30th Annual Governor’s Hurricane Conference
May 8-13, 2016
Rosen Shingle Creek
Orlando, Florida

National Flood Conference

May 17-20, 2015
Washington, DC

FHCF 16th Annual Participating Insurers Workshop

May 18 – 19, 2016

Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort

Lake Buena Vista, Florida



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