Florida Legislature: House Republicans Designate Rep. Larry Cretul (R-Ocala) as Next House Speaker
In a caucus meeting on February 2, 2009, Republicans in the Florida House of Representatives designated Speaker Pro Tempore Larry Cretul (R-Ocala) as Republican leader. The designation is, in effect, a commitment to elect Rep. Cretul as Speaker of the House when the regular legislative session convenes on March 3, 2009. Rep. Cretul has been fulfilling the functions of speaker since January 30, 2009, when Rep. Ray Sansom (R-Fort Walton Beach) announced that he was temporarily stepping aside, pending resolution of ongoing investigations of his relationship with Northwest Florida State College.
Over the weekend preceding the caucus meeting, questions had arisen over whether the House rules allowed a speaker to step down temporarily. By the time the caucus met, Rep. Sansom had apparently decided to accept that his resignation needed to be permanent, and House Republicans decided to elect Rep. Cretul as the Speaker for the remainder of the 2009 – 2010 legislative biennium.
In a February 6, 2009 news conference, Rep. Cretul announced several leadership changes and the creation of a new select council, including:
- Creation of a new Select Policy Council on Strategic and Economic Planning, chaired by Rep. Dean Cannon (R-Orlando).
- Appointment of Rep. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) to replace Rep. Cretul as chair of the Select Committee on Seminole Indian Gaming Compact Review.
- Appointment of Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff (R-Fort Lauderdale) to replace Rep. Cannon as chair of the Finance & Tax Council.
- Appointment of Rep. Sansom to replace Rep. Bogdanoff as chair of the Policy Council. Rep. Sansom also was appointed to the Finance & Tax Council and the Rules & Calendar Council.
Rep. Cretul has appointed J. Dudley Goodlette, a Republican from Naples who served in the House for eight years, to serve as House chief of staff. Mike Hansen, who was chief of staff under Speaker Sansom, will remain with the House to consult on budgetary matters. Rep. Cretul also recommended that Rep. Ron Reagan (R-Sarasota) be elected to succeed him as Speaker Pro Tempore.
Property Insurance: Legislative Committee Hears Testimony About State Farm Florida’s Withdrawal From the Florida Market and Potential Catastrophe Fund Shortfalls Representatives of State Farm Florida Insurance Co. (State Farm Florida) and its parent company, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. (State Farm Mutual), appeared before the Florida House Insurance, Business & Financial Affairs Committee on February 3, 2009 to provide information to legislators regarding State Farm Florida’s decision to withdraw from the Florida property insurance market over the next two years.
State Farm Florida President Jim Thompson and State Farm Mutual Vice President Dave Hill told the committee that current trends indicate that the Florida company would become insolvent at some point during calendar year 2011. Asked whether the withdrawal was related to the Office of Insurance Regulation’s recent denial of State Farm Florida’s proposed 47.1 percent rate increase, Mr. Hill stated that the denial was a factor that brought State Farm to the realization that it needed to act quickly. Mr. Hill declined to say what legislative or regulatory actions might lead the company to reconsider its decision.
Deputy Insurance Commissioner Belinda Miller indicated that the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation, if it approves the withdrawal, would probably attach conditions to its approval. State Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, with an insurance agents’ association and others, are recommending that State Farm allow its agents to sell policies issued by companies other than State Farm; currently, State Farm agents can write only for State Farm companies and Citizens Property Insurance Corp.
In another development that could impact the entire property insurance market, staff of the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund (Catastrophe Fund) projected that the fund’s claims-paying ability for the 2010 hurricane season would be $10.6 billion. The fund provides inexpensive reinsurance for Florida residential property insurers. In an effort to reduce property insurance premiums, the legislature expanded the coverage provided by the fund to $29 billion in 2007, and required insurers to roll back their rates to reflect the cost savings. The credit market meltdown has limited the fund’s ability borrow to meet its obligations, creating a potential $18.4 billion shortfall. Catastrophe Fund staff have indicated that in the absence of federal support for the fund, the Legislature might need to reduce the amount of coverage provided by the fund to more closely match the fund’s ability to pay. Bringing the fund’s promises in line with its ability to pay would force insurers to obtain more reinsurance in the private sector, which would increase insurers’ costs and create upward pressure on rates.
State Budget: Revenues Continue to Decline, as Florida Prepares for Federal Stimulus
On February 2, 2009, Governor Charlie Crist announced the creation of the Federal Stimulus Working Group to expedite use of any federal economic stimulus money received by the state. The governor will chair the working group, which also includes Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp, senior governor’s office staff members, and representatives of state agencies with jurisdiction over health, education, transportation, employment, economic development, energy, and tourism. Under the stimulus plan as passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, Florida could receive up to $13.3 billion over two years, including $4.5 billion for education, $4.4 billion for health and social services, and $2.3 billion for transportation and economic development.
On February 3, 2009, Sen. JD Alexander (R-Winter Haven), chair of the Florida Senate Ways and Means Committee, said that state and local revenues collections continue to weaken. Sen. Alexander said that in December 2008 and January 2009, state revenue collections were $224 million below projections. Based on this trend, he said, the budget shortfall for the 2009 – 2010 fiscal year would be approximately $4 billion, or $1.5 billion higher than current projections. Sen. Alexander also noted that in the next year, counties’ property tax collections could be as much as $1 billion lower, and the state constitution’s class size limits could increase public school costs by $1 billion.
Politics: Gov. Crist May Be Considering 2010 U.S. Senate Race, While the Race for Florida Agriculture Commissioner Heats Up
Several national publications have reported that Gov. Crist is considering entering the race to replace U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez in 2010. On February 3, 2009, Gov. Crist announced that he would make a decision about whether to run for the Senate or for reelection as governor after the regular legislative session ends in May 2009. Several potential Republican candidates, including U.S. Representatives Vern Buchanan (R-13th Congressional District) and Connie Mack (R-14th Congressional District) and former Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio (R-West Miami) have apparently placed their possible U.S. Senate campaigns on hold while they await the governor’s decision.
Another highly contested statewide election in 2010 will be the race to succeed term-limited Republican Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson. In addition to serving as head of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the agriculture commissioner participates in the management of several other state agencies as one of the three members of the State Cabinet.
On February 2, 2009, U.S. Rep. Adam Putnam (R-12th Congressional District) announced his candidacy for agriculture commissioner. In response to Rep. Putnam’s announcement, two previously announced candidates, state Sen. Cary Baker (R-Eustis) and former state Rep. Marty Bowen (R-Winter Haven) stated that they intend to remain in the race. There are currently no announced Democratic candidates for agriculture commissioner.
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