January 24, 2007

Ross and Brown resign posts

Two days after Rep. Don Brown, a DeFuniak Springs Republican, and Rep. Dennis Ross, a Lakeland Republican, cast the lone no votes on the massive insurance bill, the two lawmakers have "offered their resignations" as council chairmen, a statement from the office of House Speaker Marco Rubio says.

"Their resignations have been accepted. I respect their decisions and look forward to working with them in their new roles,'' said Rubio in a statement. The resignations have prompted a flurry of moves by Rubio. Brown is out as chairman of the Jobs and Entrepreneurship Council and will take over as chairman of the Insurance Committee. Rep. Ron Reagan, who had been insurance committee chairman, will take Brown's post as council chairman and will also replace him on the Rules and Calendar Council.

Ross will demoted to vice-chairman on the Safety and Security Council, a job he just got when Rep. Holly Benson left her job in the Legislature to work for the administration of Gov. Charlie Crist.

"Kiss My A**" snarled in Miami Rep. spat

The scene: A committee room late at night on day 5 (Saturday) of the special session on insurance.

The players: South Miami Rep. Julio Robaina and Miami Rep. David Rivera, both Republicans.

The fact they agree on most: They don’t like each other very much.

Robaina is upset. For the second year in a row, he’s watching his push to require financial disclosures for national parent companies of Florida subsidiaries (aka “pup companies”) die.

''I'm proud of the House's work on this bill, but it's bad public policy'' says Robaina. He points out that Gov. Charlie Crist made this a campaign issue. Says Rep. Don Brown, a DeFuniak Springs Republican – one of only two members to vote against the bill Monday -- ``The governor doesn't vote on this conference.''

To prevent a public blowup, about a dozen lawmakers huddle in a corner where Robaina speaks in Spanish and English to Rivera. “David, do you support the governor?” Robaina asks according to a number of lawmakers. “Do you support the people of Florida?”

Rivera, initially refusing to look at Robaina, finally stares at him and lets it fly: “Kiss my a**, Julio,” a number of lawmakers say. Some say Robaina responded in turn. Smiling when asked about the incident later, neither would confirm nor deny what was said.

“Usually, when you say something like that, someone says it right back,” Rivera later said, explaining he was annoyed that Robaina publicly questioned the agreement struck with the Senate by Rep. Ray Sansom, R-Destin, who’s scheduled to be House Speaker after Speaker Marco Rubio of Miami.

“I acknowledge I firmly admonished him for publicly disagreeing with Chairman Sansom,” Rivera said.

Said Robaina: “We're going to leave it at this: It's called Miami guys having a spat. There is no issue. We've been battling for a long time. But there is no war. There will be a battle over the pup companies. Make no mistake about that. I’m ready to file a bill as soon as I can.”

January 22, 2007

Crist threatens to veto insurance bill

Gov. Charlie Crist this morning threatened to veto the insurance reform bill crafted this weekend because of a provision that would have required Citizens customers to switch to private carriers as long as their rates were not 25 percent higher than what Citizens charged. According to those involved, Crist termed the provision a "deal breaker."

House Speaker Marco Rubio confirmed that House and Senate leaders decided this morning to retool the conference report on the insurance bills to accomodate Crist's concerns. But that decision has delayed the final printing on the conference report and now means a final vote on the bill won't come until later this afternoon.

January 20, 2007

Bipartisan mood souring a bit

The tug-of-war over insurance during this week's special session has largely pitted the House against the Senate, with Republicans and Democrats in both chambers working hand in hand. But the spirit of bipartisan cooperation may be wearing a bit thin as lawmakers struggle to reach an agreement.

For example, after Sen. Steve Geller, the Hallandale Beach Democrat held a afternoon press conference to complain that the House has refused so far to consider his super hurricane catastrophe fund idea, Rep. David Rivera, a Miami Republican, ripped Geller and said the House wants no part of his plan, saying it will lead to an eventual tax increase.

Moments after Rep. Dan Gelber, the Miami Beach Democrat and House Minority Leader, was finished talking to the press, Rivera asked if any reporters wanted to hear what the "Republican majority that actually runs the House" had to say.

When asked about Rivera's criticisms about his plan, Geller had a blunt response: "I think they are starting to be more partisan.''

January 19, 2007

Who’s worse: State Farm or Citizens?

Unlike House Speaker Marco Rubio, who thinks state-run Citizens Property Insurance is the “worst insurance company in the state of Florida” and shouldn’t be expanded to cover other types of insurance, Gov. Charlie Crist says State Farm is worse and cited the case of Guinevive Kilgore, an 83 year old, African-American woman from Pensacola who was mentioned in his inaugural address.

“It’s like any business endeavor. You get good people there,” Crist said of the idea to expand Citizens.

But the House says Citizens needs a business plan before expanding. Responded Crist, thumping the podium and raising his voice before walking off:

“Yeah, well, I’ve got one. And it is to have the people work hard that go there – to put a new board in place and make it responsible.

"It's just like we’ve brought in great people in this administration. It’s not complicated. It is not complex. It is straightforward and simple, and it’s an American idea. It’s what we need to be doing.

"And Guinevive doesn’t think they’re the worst company. I think she thinks State Farm is the worst company.”

Crist also today spent part of his lunch hour cold calling residents--a widow from St. Augustine, a retired couple from Port Charlotte, and a couple from Dunedin--who had written or e-mailed the governor to talk to him about insurance. In between sips of a Coke Classic (he's trying to curtail his use of Red Bull), Crist was able to talk to Stan Whitney, while leaving messages urging the others to call him back. Whitney, who is 78 and retired seven years ago from Vermont, decided last year to drop his insurance because the premiums were too high. Since Whitney does not have a mortgage, he made the decision to go bare, which means he also has no coverage for liability, fire or theft.

"I was very surprised and pleased to receive his phone call,'' said Whitney. "I'm thankful I wrote that letter. Someone you think your voice won't be heard....I had about given up hope. Now maybe there's a chance."

January 18, 2007

Conservative voice blasts insurance reforms

Dick Armey, the staunch conservative and former U.S. House Majority Leader who is now chaIrman of Freedomworks, has written a letter to Gov. Charlie Crist criticizing some of the legislative proposals under consideration in Florida. Freedomworks motto is "Lower taxes, less government, more freedom," a phrase that Crist himself used repeatedly on the campaign trail.

Armey took aim directly at placing limits on Florida property insurance subsidiaries, a Crist campaign promise, and said they don't "make economic sense."  He asked Crist to veto any legislation that included these restrictions, which he said would result in more insurance companies leaving the state. "The state of Florida needs responsible direction during this special session and as the governor we look to you to provide that direction,'' wrote Armey. To read the entire letter click here.

January 16, 2007

Pedicures and manicures and special session votes

The Florida House on the first day of special session moved quickly on its legislative proposals for insurance, with several councils approving major bills on insurance, the state building code and the state's mitigation program.

Rep. Don Brown, chairman of the Jobs and Entrepreneurship Council and an insurance agent, voted for the House's major insurance bill, but not before getting sarcastic about one provision. After discussing a clause that requires companies that sell homeowners in other states to sell homeowners in Florida, Brown began joking about whether he should require his barber to perform pedicures and manicures. "He doesn't do it now because he's a redneck,'' said Brown, a Republican from DeFuniak Springs.

Bill sponsor Rep. David Rivera, a Miami Republican, responded by saying that if he found his barber was performing manicures and pedicures for rich tourists in South Beach that he would ask his barber why he couldn't do it for his regular customers as well.

January 11, 2007

Legislature takes about-face: offers record subsidies, drop in rates

Florida lawmakers appear headed to abandon hopes that the private insurance market can solve Florida's insurance woes without significant state involvement -- in the form of state-subsidized reinsurance. Both the House and Senate have emerged with plans that will drop rates for the first time in years, and rely on state-sponsored reinsurance to cushion the risk of private insurers. More here.

January 10, 2007