MOVEMENT TO HAVE INSURANCE AND UTILITY REGULATORS BE ELECTED OFFICIALS-Andrew Stelzer

03/06/06

As the 2006 state legislative session is set to open on Tuesday, the rising cost of home insurance will be one of the main topics on the agenda. More and more companies are refusing to issue new policies, leaving thousands of Floridians with no choice but to go without insurance, or use the high priced insurer of last resort, Citizens. Many citizens are upset about rising utility prices as well, and there is a growing movement to try and address both of these issues by having the regulators of both insurance and utilities be elected, instead of appointed officials. WMNFs Andrew Stelzer has more.

An Orlando Sun-Sentinel poll conducted last week, found that more than half of voters believe the states Public Service Commission, or PSC is not exercising enough oversight over power and gas companies. 38 percent want the 5 PSC commissioners to be elected, while 36 prefer the current system in which they are appointed, and 26 percent are unsure. Dave Bruns is a spokesman for AARP of Florida, he says they get a constant flow of calls from older Floridians who are having trouble dealing with increases inutility rates.

ACT-Bruns “old people have been hit very. Very hard in the last 6 months…property taxes, energy costs, gasoline prices…prescription. At the same time, modest increases in social security, pensions..so older people are facing some very difficult decisions..�

AARP hasn’t taken on official position on the possibility of an elected PSC, but Bruns says that when PSC commissioners make decisions they should be taking into account peoples situations and incomes, and he’s not sure the system is working.

ACT-Bruns “AARP supports profit, but the consumers should have to support it..�

Mike Twomey with Florida Tax Watch says it’s a move that’s long overdue. He says Florida’s system was fine until 1979, when the state legislature changed the law under what he says was intense lobbying by the utilities. Now, Twomey says candidates to be PSC Commissioners are currently selected by an obscure council, and the governor has to choose off of that short the list.

ACT-Twomey “.the power companies were behind the change..it was a close vote, the measure failed during the regular session by vote and during a special session it passed narrowly. Then in 1978 in the general election there was a constitutional amendment to make it appointed instead of elected, and it failed 2 to 1, so the public has always been opposed and has wanted to retain, you get to vote directly, telephone, natural gas, sewer, etc.�

Attorney general Charlie Crist has come out in support on having an elected PSC, and Senator Nancy Argenziano has a introduced a bill which would do just that, after the PSC approved a 21 percent rate hike in electricity prices last November.

Meanwhile, The Orlando Sun-Sentinel poll found that a majority of 600 likely Florida voters would prefer that the states insurance commissioner be an elected post. Senator Ron Klein has introduced legislation which is passed, would put a question before the voters this fall as to whether they would like the sate insurance commissioner to be elected instead of appointed.

ACT-Klein “the public is not getting a fair shake, there nobody watching the store..�

In 1998, voters approved a proposal to consolidate two positions in the cabinet, and the insurance commissioner was merged into the chief financial officer. The a few year later, the state legislature took insurance out of the CFOs purview and created an insurance commissioner to be appointed, not elected.

ACT-Klein “that’s history, but with so many issues…people don’t feel there is accountability, it will be elected..�

Senator Klein says that the office of the Chief Financial Officer and the Office of Insurance Regulation are constantly trying to blame each other for rising home insurance rates. Klein points to the Hurricanes of the last two years as a perfect example of the lack of accountability.

ACT-Klein “we identified 200 million in payouts, commissioner said its not responsibility, we shouldn’t have finger pointing..�

AARP also no position on insurance commissioner either, but Bruns says that judging from the number of complaints and calls he gets, many Floridians, especially new residents assume there already is an elected official or body responsible for regulating insurance.

ACT-Bruns “many of the people I’ve spoken to are under the impressing that we have an insurance commissioner, I don’t know they are familiar with the arcane nature of how we do insurance here…people are not aware that its been revised.�

Klein says he’s not surprised.

ACT-Klein “people don’t know where to start, who to call, there is an isolation is they are not leected..otherwise you would not be elected..�

Klein says he’s hopeful that with so much attention on the issue of home insurance, and some republican support he thinks it has a chance to be put on Novembers ballot for voters to decide. Klein has also introduced the Homeowners Defense Act, which among other things, would prevent home insurers from dropping someone’s policy once they’ve been insured for 3 years.

For WMNF news, I’m Andrew Stelzer

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