Weatherford's pension overhaul hits snag in Senate | March 13
Pension change hurts Floridians
Though he claims it's an improvement, Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford's proposal to make the Florida Retirement System into a 401(k) plan is a bad idea because it increases risk for government workers.
The existing retirement system guarantees fixed payments regardless of stock market performance. Under a 401(k) format, if the stock market collapses, retirement benefits collapse too. Think what would have happened if Social Security was tied to the stock market in 2008 when the Dow fell 50 percent. Both Social Security and the Florida Retirement System function as safety nets for Floridians. Weatherford wants to erode that safety net.
It is not just those who receive payments from the retirement system who would be adversely impacted if Weatherford's proposal goes through. Businesses that serve Florida retirees would also be impacted by the drop in retirement revenues. According to a 2012 report, about 800,000 Floridians benefit from the Florida Retirement System pension plan. Rational businessmen should be wary of a proposal that undercuts the spending power of 800,000 Floridians.
Weatherford's proposal isn't an improvement, it's a step backward and an attack on the middle-class lifestyle.
Bill Mitchell, Tampa
Citizens Property Insurance
Reduce Citizens' exposure
As a CFO, I know how challenging it is to make fiscally responsible decisions. With a business or household budget, it's a must to make sound financial decisions. This must also apply to state government.
As a Clearwater resident, I'm lucky to have property insurance through a mutual company whose sole focus is on me and other members of the mutual. Many of my neighbors aren't so lucky and have been left with no other option but Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
While Citizens is supposed to act as a market of last resort, it underwrites far too many policies in Florida. Because Citizens relies on assessments rather than adequate premiums, all Floridians are at risk for significant taxes when the next major hurricane hits.
Proposed legislation contains a new mutual incentive program, which would allow Citizens to loan money to new mutual insurers to provide a significant reduction in Citizens' aggregate exposure. This would provide an alternative to Citizens for many policyholders and reduce the potential assessment burden on all.
Additionally, given the interest rate on the loan from Citizens to a mutual is reasonable, the profit load built into the cost of insurance from a mutual will be less than a similar company using private investor capital. Therefore, insurance from a mutual should be more affordable.
I think the new mutual insurer incentive proposal is a unique private sector solution to the overexposed and underfunded Citizens. I hope our state's policymakers seize this opportunity this session.
Bob Losi, Clearwater
Family fumes over police killing | March 18
Mental health services
I would like to offer condolences to the family and friends of Arthur Dixon, who recently died in a confrontation with police during a suicidal episode. As a community psychiatrist, I would like to focus on ways to help others with an untreated mental illness to get help so that similar incidents are minimized and hopefully prevented.
Suncoast Center Inc. in Pinellas County provides psychiatric services to any individual or family in the community, whether they have insurance or not. These services can be accessed in multiple ways and include psychiatric evaluation and medication management; individual, family and group psychotherapy; case management; forensic services; and many other psychosocial services.
I would like to finish with a message of hope to all those who are suffering from the consequences of a mental illness. There are multiple effective treatments for mental illnesses, and they are available to anyone in the community. Please use these services and encourage others you know who need them to do the same, as they work and they will help.
Linda Lefler, M.D., medical director, Suncoast Center, St. Petersburg
Judge: 2 football stars guilty in rape | March 18
I am outraged by the sentences and media coverage of the Stuebenville, Ohio, rape case. These two teenagers are only receiving a collective three-year sentence in juvenile detention. Pirating music in the United States has a longer minimum prison sentence than what these two received.
The media continues to sympathize with the rapists. CNN talked of how ruined these star football players' lives will be now that they have the label "sex offender" following them around for life. There was no talk of how traumatized the 16-year-old victim must feel after being drugged, raped and then having pictures of her circulate. There was no talk of how her life will change forever. There was no talk of how any kind of normal life for her will be nearly impossible from this point on.
The rapists deserve a much harsher sentence.
Chelsea Helt, St. Petersburg
Study charts large flow of guns from U.S. March 19
Borders and blame
Once again Mexico blames lax gun laws in the United States for the estimated 253,000 guns smuggled into Mexico each year. Mexico's inability to control guns flowing into Mexico from the United States due to a high demand for weapons in Mexico by corrupt officials, gangs and cartels doesn't fit with their blaming the United States for the drug trade because of a high U.S. demand for drugs.
Notwithstanding, the drug trade plays a huge role in keeping Mexico afloat. Much as they say that reducing the demand for drugs in the United States would solve drug production and smuggling issues, cleaning up Mexico's corrupt government — which allows the continued activities of gangs and cartels — would solve the gun smuggling issue. You can't have it both ways, so enough whining.
Harvey A. Smith, Palm Harbor