Saturday, January 20, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Heed homeowners on sinkhole repairs

Florida legislators should not give state-run Citizens Property Insurance Corp. the ability to further dictate to homeowners who will repair their sinkhole damage and how it will be done. Previous reforms have already had a big impact in reducing sinkhole claims, and this legislation is unnecessary and transfers too many decisions from the homeowner to the insurer.

Legislation approved by the House, HB 129, would have Citizens compile its own list of sinkhole repair contractors and force its customers to choose from the approved vendors for underground stabilization work. The Senate sponsor, Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, says the changes would encourage owners to repair damaged homes — instead of just cashing a settlement check — and help boost the lost property values attributed to sinkholes. In Hernando County, for instance, nonrepaired sinkhole homes are assessed at 50 percent of their value, which reduced the 2012 tax roll by $80 million.

Reversing that trend is a worthy goal, and Simpson is correct when he says "nobody has trust or confidence in Citizens.'' A history of higher premiums, reduced coverage, a two-year legal defense tab of $100 million, and pushing consumers into private coverage does not boost consumer confidence in the company's operations. While the company promises a kinder, gentler Citizens when dealing with customers, this bill would pave the way for select construction companies to gain an upper hand in fighting for a share of a shrinking market for sinkhole repair work.

That isn't the only way the legislation is aimed at limiting homeowners' choices. It will encourage Citizens' preferred method of "grout in the ground,'' injecting pressurized concrete beneath a home, instead of what many homeowners prefer and consider a more reliable approach — underpinning the structure with steel piers. Citizens traditionally resists underpinning, even though it can be less expensive, arguing the beams alone do not stabilize the subterranean soil.

Just three years ago, the Legislature changed the law to redefine sinkhole structural damage. It added other reforms aimed at curbing the suspected fraud blamed for Citizens' ballooning sinkhole claims that totaled $1.4 billion over a five-year period. According to more recent numbers, the reform is working. Sinkhole claims to Citizens dropped in half in 2012 and were down an estimated 80 percent between 2011-13. Simpson's bill is not retroactive, so the claims now in litigation won't be affected and the future pool of disputed cases should decline dramatically, just as the number of sinkhole claims did over the past two years.

Additional state intervention just isn't needed right now, particularly when Citizens already has a voluntary version of this repair program available to its customers. If consumer protection is truly the aim, as advocates contend, then the Legislature should establish separate licensing requirements for sinkhole repair work. That way all bona fide contractors, not just a favored few, can receive state certification and be available to repair sinkholes for customers of Citizens and all other insurers.

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Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

Editorial: Criminal charges should finally wake up FSU fraternities to hazing’s dangers

The death last fall of a 20-year-old Florida State University fraternity pledge revealed pervasive dangerous behavior within the school’s Greek system. Andrew Coffey, a Pi Kappa Phi pledge, died from alcohol poisoning after an off-campus party, and a...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: Confronting racial distrust in St. Petersburg, one conversation at a time

The St. Petersburg Police Department’s heavy presence in Midtown on Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the community animosity it stirred have raised a familiar, troubling question: Can St. Petersburg’s racial divisions ever be reconciled?That big ideal ...
Published: 01/19/18
William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

William March: Tampa Bay Democrats line up for state legislative races

A surge of Democrats seeking local legislative offices and hoping for a "blue wave" in the 2018 election continued last week, led by Bob Buesing filing to run again versus state Sen. Dana Young, R-Tampa.In addition:• Heather Kenyon Stahl of Tampa has...
Published: 01/19/18
Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

Editorial: Saying ‘thank you’ helps Tampa police build needed trust

The smiles, applause and at least one hug belied the grim impetus for a gathering last week at a neighborhood center in Tampa — the Seminole Heights killings.The Tampa Police Department held a ceremony to thank those who helped in the investigation t...
Published: 01/19/18

Editorial: State’s warning shot should get attention of Hillsborough schools

The state Board of Education hopefully sent the message this week with its warning shot about the slow pace of the turnaround at Hillsborough County’s low-performing schools.The board criticized the school system for failing to replace administrators...
Published: 01/18/18
Updated: 01/19/18
Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

Editorial: More talk, answers needed on future of USF St. Petersburg

The Florida Legislature’s abrupt move to strip the University of South Florida St. Petersburg of its hard-earned separate accreditation and transform it back into a satellite of the major research university lacks detail and an appreciation for histo...
Published: 01/18/18

Another voice: Self-dealing by nursing home owners threatens patient care

The outsourcing of logistical support services, which became commonplace in the U.S. military in the 1990s and later was adopted by state prison systems, has now come to dominate the nursing home industry. And while nursing homes, unlike the military...
Published: 01/17/18
Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Editorial: Making illegal sewage discharges legal is wrong answer

Three years into a crisis with its sewer system, St. Petersburg has a dandy new idea for dealing with the environmental fallout of dumping dirty water into the aquifer. Instead of committing to banning the outlawed practice, a consultant suggested th...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

Editorial: Tighten substitute teacher rules in Hillsborough

A substitute teacher at a Plant City elementary school berated a class of fourth graders — and then the school principal. Another compared a student to a stripper. Others were caught napping, hitting children, making sexual remarks, giving students b...
Published: 01/16/18
Updated: 01/17/18
Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

Editorial: Balancing the playing field for workers’ compensation

For the longest time, injured workers in Florida were basically at the mercy of the whims of employers to treat them fairly. A 2003 law aimed at reducing the cost of workers’ compensation coverage for businesses had the desired impact, but it also di...
Published: 01/16/18