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Without my voucher, I wouldn’t have gone to college

Here’s what readers had to say in Sunday’s letters to the editor.
The St. Leo University mascot Fritz and an unidentified woman walk towards the new dormitories on the campus of St. Leo University in Dade City. [CHRIS URSO  |  Tampa Bay Times]
The St. Leo University mascot Fritz and an unidentified woman walk towards the new dormitories on the campus of St. Leo University in Dade City. [CHRIS URSO | Tampa Bay Times]
Published Feb. 8

This help made college possible

College vouchers

I’m a senior at Saint Leo University, earning my degree and following my dreams because of the Effective Access to Student Education program, a voucher that enables students like me to attend nonprofit, independent colleges and universities in Florida. I chose Saint Leo University because I grew up in a close-knit, Hispanic family and I wanted to stay close to home. More importantly, Saint Leo offered me the opportunity to study in a religious setting.

When I decided to attend Saint Leo, I knew my family could not help financially. I was able to receive some scholarships, but another major help was the Ease voucher. It is a student voucher for Florida residents to attend independent colleges and universities. To receive the voucher, a student must be a Florida resident, enrolled full time in an accredited, nonprofit, independent college or university and maintain a 2.0 GPA. The voucher provides opportunity and choices to students across our state, students like me who are minorities, or come from low-income families, or are single mothers or veterans.

More than 113,000 undergraduates are enrolled in Florida’s independent colleges and universities, and 45,000 are able to choose these schools because of the Ease voucher. Last year, the Legislature decreased funding for Ease by nearly $700 per student. That hit me and a lot of my fellow students hard. Although I have been working part time while taking a full class load, I had to take on another part-time job to make ends meet.

Without the Ease voucher, I would not be graduating from the school I love, and starting down my path to achieve those dreams.

Darelis Ortiz Vega, St. Leo

Options on flood insurance

Surplus lines of insurance

A view of the downtown St. Petersburg skyline and waterfront from just north of the North Shore Aquatic Complex.

Risk is part of living in Florida, surrounded by water and continuously preparing for the threat of hurricanes. St. Petersburg knows all too well that floods are not limited to hurricane season nor to just coastal properties and river areas. National Flood Insurance Program data tells us that almost one in three flood claims comes from low-hazard flood zones. With rising sea levels, that could affect even inland communities, it is important to understand your flood risk and your flood insurance coverage. A standard homeowners or commercial policy does not typically cover flood insurance, so understanding your property’s elevation is critical. Flooding can happen to anyone at any time.

Florida is experiencing what the insurance industry refers to as a “hardening marketplace” — when the traditional insurance market grows more cautious and supply goes down. This is when the “surplus lines” of insurance can help to fill in the holes. Surplus lines, among their many offerings, have become a resource to consumers in the private flood market, as they are not bound by some of the limitations and restrictions of the National Flood Insurance Program.

Florida was one of the first states to initiate legislation to encourage private flood solutions. There has been a substantial growth in private flood using more specialized models and topographical data to understand and price flood risk more competitively than what may be available in the National Flood Insurance Program. In a community where dealing with tidal flooding might be the new normal, it is important to understand your risk and loss potential, and prepare.

Kathy Colangelo, Tampa

The writer is president-elect for the Florida Surplus Lines Association.

Fee multipliers hurt us

Insurance fraud

About 15 years ago, Florida’s property insurance market nearly collapsed. Competition and policyholder options were limited, and Citizens Property Insurance Corp. — the state-run insurance of last resort — grew by more than a million policies. Unfortunately, another crisis is coming our way because of fraudulent insurance claims and outrageous attorneys’ fees.

Florida’s plaintiff lawyers file about 50,000 property insurance lawsuits a year. We witness shady contractors working with a handful of lawyers to scam policyholders into home repairs that aren’t needed. Simply put, scams are raising everyone’s insurance rates. Florida law allows attorneys to receive “fee multipliers” for their work on common property insurance disputes. Fee multipliers allow an attorney to pocket up to 30 times more in fees than the homeowners they represent.

Due to frivolous lawsuits and excessive attorneys’ fees, homeowners’ property insurance rates are expected to climb, affecting homeownership abilities. I am seeing double digit rate increases, and a well-known company has announced it is non-renewing more than 7,000 homeowner policies in Florida. Sen. Jeff Brandes has introduced SB 914 to reduce frivolous lawsuits and bring homeowners property insurance rates down by putting an end to fee multipliers. We must act now to stop the games and skyrocketing rate increases facing every homeowner in Florida today.

Jeromy Harding, Port Richey

The writer is owner of Barrett Harding Insurance, a family-owned insurance company in Pasco County.

A vital partnership

Visit Florida

Kayakers explore Big Bayou in Pasco County.

Sports tourism is a growing sector of the tourism industry. In Pasco County, we are increasingly attracting active travelers interested in fishing, hiking, biking, skydiving and amateur sports. We are a growing sports vacation market, largely thanks to the tourism promotion programs available through Visit Florida. Participating in national advertising and international marketing events made possible by Visit Florida has created a ripple effect on our economy and our community’s brand — positive impacts that can only be continued through the Florida Legislature reauthorizing and fully funding Visit Florida.

Our tourism development tax revenue is up 17 percent year over year. We have added four hotels in the past two years. Two more hotels will rise in 2020, and another is expected in 2021. Consumers, media and tour operators have a geographical reference point for our destination and we even have a recognizable name now: “Florida’s Sports Coast.”

The Florida Sports Coast’s vital partnership with the state’s tourism marketing organization allows our small-market destination to have a greater voice. Our hotels and restaurants feel the same way. Give Visit Florida the funding it deserves.

Adam Thomas, New Port Richey

The writer is tourism director for Experience Florida’s Sports Coast.

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