The Florida Senate today passed several pieces of priority legislation including: Senate Bill 542, by Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg), which aims to increase the availability of private-market flood insurance options; Senate Bill 846, by Senator Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater), which expands Florida’s ethics laws; and Senate Bill 1648, by Senator Ring (D-Margate), which updates Florida’s existing public records laws.
“Senator Brandes’ innovative legislation paves the way for a private market for flood insurance in Florida, freeing homeowners from the dictates, irregularity and uncertainty of Washington bureaucrats,” said Florida Senate President Don Gaetz (R-Niceville). “Under this legislation, Floridians will have a wide range of flexible options to choose from so they can reach an affordable level of coverage for their property.”
“The bill emphasizes consumer choice and will let us control our own destiny in this critical market,” said Senator Brandes. “This legislation makes Florida a national leader in the flood insurance marketplace and I am grateful to my colleagues for their overwhelming support.”
Senate Bill 542, Flood Insurance
The National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) is a federal program that enables property owners to purchase flood insurance, as it has historically been unavailable in the private market, and is frequently required by mortgage lenders. The NFIP currently writes more flood insurance policies in Florida (more than 2 million) than any other state. Although Florida policies make up about 37 percent of the total policies written, since its inception the program has paid only about $3.7 billion for flood losses in Florida compared to more than $50 billion nationwide.
Senate Bill 542 creates an alternative to the NFIP by expressly authorizing insurance companies to offer flood policies in Florida. In order to keep the cost of flood insurance low, the bill provides opportunities for policyholders and insurers to select various deductible amounts, choose between insuring their property for the outstanding balance of their mortgage, the property’s replacement cost, or the actual cash value of the property. The legislation further empowers Florida consumers by allowing them to opt to include or exclude coverage for contents, additional living expenses, or secondary structures, but also provides consumer protections by maintaining the Office of Insurance Regulation’s current role with regard to rate approval.
Senate Bill 846, Governmental Ethics
Senate Bill 846 expands Florida’s ethics laws to promote transparency, accountability, and ethical behavior among officials in local governments, special taxing districts, and quasi-governmental organizations that deliver government services or collect and spend taxpayer dollars.
“In 2013, we passed comprehensive ethics reform legislation the late Governor Askew called ‘the most sweeping ethics reform in 38 years’. In 2014, we are doubling down to pass legislation that encourages ethical and open decision making and conduct at all levels of government across the state,” said President Gaetz.
“This Senate has made it a priority to raise the standard of public conduct across the board because we believe Floridians deserve assurances that all public officials – from state legislators and clerks of the court to water management district board members and city councilmen – are working in an ethical, transparent manner,” said Senator Latvala.
Senate Bill 846 requires Direct Support Organizations and Citizen Support Organizations that are created or authorized by statute to assist state agencies or perform government services to adopt their own Code of Ethics at least as stringent as the state’s; applies anti-nepotism provisions, voting conflict standards, and post-employment lobbying restrictions to statutorily created quasi-governmental entities like the Florida Clerk of Courts, Enterprise Florida, and Citizens Property Insurance; and requires certain special districts to set up and use lobbyist registration systems.
A key component of the joint House and Senate “Work Plan Florida 2014” agenda authored by President Gaetz and House Speaker Will Weatherford (R-Wesley Chapel), Senate Bill 846 requires elected municipal officers to complete four hours of ethics training annually, and like constitutional officers who were subjected to this requirement last year, certify completion of the training on their annual financial disclosure forms. In the event a public official refused to file the required financial disclosure, the Florida Commission on Ethics is given the authority to investigate and may recommend the official be removed from office if it finds the failure was wilful.
Senate Bill 1648, Public Records and Meetings
“This legislation, which has received support from the First Amendment Foundation, strengthens Florida’s existing Sunshine Laws and ensures our state continues to lead the nation in open records and open government,” said President Gaetz.
“While Florida’s Sunshine Laws are a model for providing access to information from government, updating and clarifying the existing public records laws will ensure more uniform application,” said Senator Ring. “Senate Bill 1648 updates, clarifies, and codifies court decisions relating to existing law to guarantee that citizens can access the public records they are entitled to and that governments correctly respond to their requests.”
The legislation provides the fee charged for satisfying a voluminous or complicated public records request is limited to the cost of the lowest paid personnel capable of performing the work and excludes employer-paid benefits, requires a private contractor acting on behalf of a public agency to inform the agency before denying a public records request or if it is being sued for failing to provide a record, and requires agencies to train all their employees in Florida’s public records laws at a level commensurate with their positions.
Senate Bill 1648 also brings additional transparency to government entities that use public funds to pay membership fees in private associations or organizations. The bill prohibits the expenditure unless the financial, business, and membership information that pertains to the government entity is available for public inspection along with records the association distributes to all its members.
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