Legislature: House Speaker Ray Sansom Steps Aside
Florida House of Representatives Speaker Ray Sansom (R-Fort Walton Beach) has stepped down from the office of speaker. In a January 30, 2009 e-mail to House members, Rep. Sansom wrote, “Effective immediately, I have decided to recuse myself from the exercise of my duties as Speaker of the House of Representatives.” Although Rep. Sansom’s apparent intent was to step aside temporarily, his future status was not immediately clear.
In his e-mail, Rep. Sansom declared that “Ongoing legal proceedings have temporarily created an inability” for him to carry out his duties as speaker and, that under the House rules, the Speaker Pro Tempore, Rep. Larry Cretul (R-Ocala), would exercise the powers of the speaker during the temporary inability. Several House members argued that rule relied on by Rep. Sansom does not allow for temporary removal from office and requires the election of a new speaker.
On February 1, 2009, the House Rules & Calendar Council Chair, Rep. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton), issued his analysis and recommendation. Rep. Galvano stated that the relevant House rule is ambiguous in that it does not expressly provide for or allow a transfer of authority back to Rep. Sansom. He recommended that the House, “[i]n an abundance of caution and in order to ensure certainty and avoid any further ambiguity” elect a new speaker when the regular legislative session convenes on March 3, 2009.
Rep. Galvano also declared that he was not seeking the speakership and would not accept a nomination to serve as speaker.
A meeting of the House Republican Conference has been called for 9:00 p.m, February 2, 2009. Florida newspapers are reporting that House Republicans are likely to select Rep. Cretul to succeed Rep. Sansom as speaker. Newspapers also are reporting that J. Dudley Goodlette, who served in the House from 1998 to 2006 as a Republican Representative from Naples, will replace Mike Hansen as House chief of staff. Mr. Hansen previously served as the staff director of the House Policy & Budget Council and as director of the Governor’s Office of Policy and Budget in the Jeb Bush administration.
Earlier in the week, a Tallahassee grand jury voted to investigate Rep. Sansom’s relationship with Northwest Florida State College and a Destin-area developer. Rep. Sansom also is the subject of a complaint filed with the Florida Commission on Ethics.
Insurance: State Farm Florida Announces Its Withdrawal From the Florida Property Insurance Market
On January 27, 2009, State Farm Florida Insurance Co. (State Farm Florida) filed notice that it would stop writing property insurance coverage in Florida over the next two years. In a press release, the insurer stated that even without a hurricane, operating costs have risen as day-to-day claims have grown in both number and severity, and that state-mandated premium discounts also have reduced revenues. In a conference call with reporters, State Farm Florida President Jim Thompson stated that the company’s property insurance operations were losing money at the rate of $20 million a month in 2008, a year with no major catastrophic events.
Earlier in the month, Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin M. McCarty disapproved State Farm Florida’s homeowners’ insurance rate filing, which would have increased rates by a statewide average of 47.1 percent.
State Farm Florida writes approximately 933,000 homeowner’s and other residential policies. In 2007, the company had a 21.3 percent share of the Florida homeowner’s insurance market, followed by Citizens Property Insurance Corp., which had a market share of 20.5 percent.
State Farm Florida’s withdrawal from the market is subject to regulatory review. Insurance Commissioner McCarty said, “I will do everything within my power to protect Florida consumers from unnecessary destabilization of the insurance market … and have access to insurance at rates that are not excessive or unfairly discriminatory.” The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation has issued a subpoena requiring State Farm Florida to provide detailed information about all of its policyholders.
Sen. Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey) announced that he was working with the insurance commissioner on legislation that would make it more difficult for an insurer to write auto insurance after leaving the property insurance market and legislation that would require an insurer to renew 98 percent of its homeowner’s policies each year.
Gov. Crist’s immediate reaction to news of State Farm Florida’s withdrawal was, “They probably charge the highest rates in the state anyway. Floridians will be much better off without them.” Later in the week he announced his support for Sen. Fasano’s proposals.
State Budget: Gov. Crist Vetoes $365 Million in Budget Cuts and Trust Fund Transfers
On January 27, 2009, Gov. Crist signed the budget-cutting bills that a special session of the legislature had enacted earlier in the month, and he used his line item veto power to restore approximately $365 million in spending.
The major budget restorations included:
- Environmental land acquisition: $276 million
- Education: $28.9 million, including $14.5 million for teacher merit pay
- Agency for Persons with Disabilities: $23 million
- Substance abuse programs: $16 million
- Tourism, including Visit Florida: $22 million
Economic Stimulus: Some Republicans Charge That the Federal Stimulus Plan Shortchanges Florida
Republican members of Congress, including Reps. C. W. Bill Young (R-10th Congressional District) and Adam Putnam (R-12th Congressional District), have charged that Florida does not receive a fair share of funding under the economic stimulus plan passed by the U.S. House of Representatives.
Rep. Putnam cited an analysis from The Wall Street Journal that showed Florida lagging in several categories. In the area of transportation and infrastructure funding, Florida is slated to receive $2 billion, or $108.03 per capita. Florida’s per capita transportation and infrastructure allocation is the lowest of all states, except for North Carolina, at $108.02 per capita. In the category of aid to states, Florida is allocated $3.5 billion, or $193.51 per capita, the lowest per capita allocation among the states. Rep. Young noted that the allocation formula for the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund would disqualify Florida because state funding for K-12 and higher education has fallen below 2006 levels.
The allocations to Florida have been defended by the Center for American Progress, a Washington, D.C. think tank. Under that organization’s analysis, the House-passed legislation would provide Florida with a total of $29.3 billion in funding and tax cuts, which is exceeded only by the allocations to California, New York, and Texas, and that the $4.3 billion in additional Medicaid funding for Florida is exceeded only by the Medicaid funding for the three larger states.
Politics: Uncertainty Continues as Candidates Enter and Leave U.S. Senate Race
The race to succeed retiring Republican U.S. Senator Mel Martinez remains unsettled. On the Democratic side, state Sen. Dan Gelber (D-Miami Beach) formally declared his candidacy on January 27, 2009, joining U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-17th Congressional District), who declared his candidacy earlier in the month. Another possible Democratic candidate is Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, who has announced that she is considering a run.
On January 28, 2009, U.S. Rep. Allen Boyd (D-2nd Congressional District), a leader of the Blue Dog Democrats in the U.S. Congress, announced that he would not run for the Senate.
Among Republicans, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum, who twice previously ran for the U.S. Senate, announced on January 28, 2009 that he would not seek the Senate seat and would instead run for reelection as attorney general.
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