Saturday, November 18, 2017
Business

Citizens loan proposal needs more review

RECOMMENDED READING


TALLAHASSEE — Citizens Property Insurance Corp. on Tuesday opted to temporarily delay approval of a controversial $350 million loan to private companies, but also indicated it might not comply with a request from a top lawmaker calling for legislative review of the program.

After incoming House Speaker Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, wrote a letter questioning the board's authority to implement the $350 million loan program without approval from lawmakers, Citizens president Barry Gilway said the company would slow down and bring in a third-party financial firm to review the program.

But Gilway and several board members stopped short of complying with Weatherford's request that Citizens hold off on approving the program until the Legislature held hearings.

"Time is a factor, we have a clock in this game," said board member John Rollins, expressing concern about delaying the program. "Running out the clock is not a good (depopulation) strategy."

Weatherford's office said Citizens had not addressed his main concern — that the state-run insurer might not have the authority to implement the massive loan without approval from the Legislature.

"The letter raised specific concerns, which Citizens has not addressed about the Legislature's authority," Ryan Duffy, a spokesman for Weatherford, said. Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said he "support(s) Speaker Weatherford's position on this issue."

Citizens' decision to move ahead with the controversial loan sets up a potential showdown between the increasingly independent board of governors and the Florida Legislature, which created the state-run insurer in 2002.

Gov. Rick Scott, who sparked Citizens' ambitious plans to shed policies, weighed in Tuesday as well, stating that he believed the board had the authority to implement the $350 million loan. The money would go to private companies that agree to take over policies from Citizens.

"I think the structure is that there is a board, and this is the purview of the board," said Scott, when asked if he agreed with Weatherford's call for legislative review. "The board has the right to make the decision."

Board members indicated Tuesday that Citizens planned to approve the program as early as December, months before lawmakers converge in Tallahassee for the 2013 lawmaking session.

But Weatherford's office said the Legislature's committees would not start meeting until December at the earliest, making it unlikely that Citizens' schedule would comply with the request for legislative hearings.

Citizens said it would work with Weatherford's office on a compromise, but insisted that launching the program this winter was key to getting it in place before the next hurricane season.

The $350 million program would provide low-interest loans to private insurers who take over policies from Citizens and agree to keep them for 10 years. It could help shrink the insurer of 1.4 million by up to 300,000 policies, potentially saving taxpayers money in the event of a massive hurricane.

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Insurance Consumer Advocate Robin Westcott and some Republican lawmakers have raised questions about the financial soundness of the program. All have called for a more thorough vetting of the loan, which was unveiled in September and quickly approved, in concept, within 48 hours.

"The insurance industry thought they could just slip a multimillion dollar corporate welfare initiative by policyholders and lawmakers, without even going through the legislative process," said Sean Shaw, founder of Policyholders of Florida, a consumer advocacy group. "It's refreshing to see more and more lawmakers beginning to stand against insurance industry lobbyists and say enough is enough."

Comments

Stolen car crashes in St. Pete, leaving passenger, 15, with life threatening injuries

Two boys in a stolen car struck a dip in the roadway and crashed into a tree, leaving the 15-year-old passenger with life-threatening injuries, St. Petersburg police said.The crash occurred about 11:25 a.m. Sunday as the car sped west on 11th Avenue ...
Updated: 10 minutes ago

Search suspended for missing Cortez boater who left from Egmont Key

The U.S. Coast Guard suspended its search for a missing 63-year-old boater on Sunday evening, two days after he and his dog were reported missing 5 miles northwest of Mead Point, just inland from Anna Maria Island.On Friday, Fraser Horne of Cortez le...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Parents, children welcome downsized MOSI in Tampa

Parents, children welcome downsized MOSI in Tampa

TAMPA — Avery, 6, slid his sneakers up the side of 200-pound rubber tire from the space shuttle Columbia and sat on top.His father, Ilder Jeannot, called for him to get off of it — usually climbing on museum displays is frowned upon. But in the new M...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Sunday Conversation: Tona Bell invites customers to enjoy a ‘digital detox’

Sunday Conversation: Tona Bell invites customers to enjoy a ‘digital detox’

Like so many small businesses, Saturday will represent a special day for Paper Seahorse owner Tona Bell. Bell’s cozy bungalow business at 211 S Howard features paper and stationery, specialty pens, vintage typewriters and crafts classes. It will offe...
Updated: 11 hours ago
Florida jobs recover from Irma, unemployment rate drops

Florida jobs recover from Irma, unemployment rate drops

As economists predicted, the tough hit that Florida jobs took from Hurricane Irma was not long-lived. The state added 125,300 jobs in October, almost breaking even from the 127,400 jobs it lost in September. According to state figures released Friday...
Published: 11/17/17
Apple will postpone release of  HomePod

Apple will postpone release of HomePod

The Washington PostApple said Friday that it’s pushing back its plans for a Siri-powered smart speaker until sometime early next year.The HomePod speaker was announced in June, with an initial launch date set for December. Apple said that its smart s...
Published: 11/17/17
HSN, Good Housekeeping pick five contest finalists

HSN, Good Housekeeping pick five contest finalists

ST. PETERSBURG — Good Housekeeping and St. Petersburg-based HSN have chosen five finalists for their entrepreneur competition. The partners are searching for a novel item to promote as endorsed by the Good Housekeeping Seal, denoting reliability and ...
Published: 11/17/17
Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? Disconnected we falter but there’s a plan to fix that

Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? Disconnected we falter but there’s a plan to fix that

How are we doing?That was the Big Question posed more than once this past week in Tampa Bay. First, the Tampa Bay Partnership and USF debuted in-depth and new ways to measure Tampa Bay across a wide range of indicators to gauge whether we are gaining...
Published: 11/17/17
Tesla’s latest creation: An electric big rig that can travel 500 miles on a single charge

Tesla’s latest creation: An electric big rig that can travel 500 miles on a single charge

The main course was expected: a pair of sleek silver Tesla semi-trucks that get 500 miles per charge, go from zero to 60 mph in five seconds and — if the hype is to be believed — promise to single-handedly transform the commercial trucking industry.B...
Published: 11/17/17
We ask Tampa Bay startup leaders how best to advance entrepreneurial ecosystem

We ask Tampa Bay startup leaders how best to advance entrepreneurial ecosystem

What one thing could be added to the Tampa Bay startup community to help it grow and prosper?The Tampa Bay Times reached out to these leading area entrepreneurs and startup experts for answers.RELATED COVERAGE: Trigaux: State of Tampa Bay startups? D...
Published: 11/17/17