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Business Observer Thursday, Mar. 25, 2010 8 years ago

Government Digest: March 26 - April 1

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A look at governmental action from around the Gulf Coast.

Community affairs lives on
TALLAHASSEE — Saying, “I don't think we should do anything else but reenact both of these departments,” Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, chairman of the Senate's community affairs committee, urged his colleagues to support the committee substitute for his bill to retain the Florida Department of Community Affairs and the Florida Housing Finance Corporation.

Both agencies are under review as part of the Legislature's periodic sunset review process. DCA Secretary Tom Pelham's presentation was interrupted when the committee moved ahead voting 9-1 to reenact the agencies. Sen. Ronda Storms, R-Valrico, was the lone “no” vote. The bill has two more committee stops.

In other action, the committee passed Bennett's economic energy zone bill, which will largely benefit Sarasota County initially. The committee also unanimously approved a bill to remove the fund cap on the documentary stamp tax from real estate transactions used to support affordable housing programs. The bill has brought support of business associations and affordable housing advocacy groups.

McCollum pushes “single action”
TALLAHASSEE — With Florida borrowers having a big share of the $1.4 trillion in U.S. commercial real estate loans coming due during the next four years, Attorney General Bill McCollum wrote to legislative and cabinet leaders March 18 urging them to take action to minimize expected future economic carnage.

In his letter, McCollum wrote, “As I learn more about the potential for massive commercial real property mortgage foreclosures, I am convinced that swift legislative remedial action this legislative session would avert some of the more devastating consequences of such foreclosures.” He added, “As one of the largest markets in the nation for commercial real estate loans, Florida faces a significant risk of financial loss.”

Other large states have laws on the books requiring that all claims be consolidated into a single action, or prohibit certain lawsuits going after borrowers personally before proceeding against collateral.

Foreclosure bill moves in House
TALLAHASSEE — A bill setting up an alternative foreclosure process that allows lenders to bypass the courts passed the House civil justice and courts policy committee March 22.

Sponsored by Rep. Tom Grady, R-Naples, the committee approved HB 1523, which would allow parties to a foreclosure to eliminate court proceedings if both agree. According to Anthony DiMarco of the Florida Bankers Association, the law would allow banks and other mortgage lenders to cut an average 18-month wait to finalize a foreclosure to six months, allowing homes to get back on the market faster. A similar bill, SB 2270, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, awaits action by three committees.

Health care legal challenge
TALLAHASSEE — Convinced of health care reform's unconstitutionality, Florida Attorney General Bill McCollum invites fellow Attorneys General across the nation to join him “in preparing a legal challenge to the constitutionality of whatever individual mandate provision emerges, immediately upon the legislation becoming law.”

McCollum's March 16 letter to the president of the National Association of Attorneys General includes an analysis of the constitutionality of the individual mandate. The analysis claims Congress lacks Commerce Clause (Article I, section 8 of the U.S. Constitution) authority to enact the individual mandate and amounts to an illegal tax applied to a citizen's inactivity.

“Consumer Choice” bill advances
TALLAHASSEE — A House committee approved a revamped residential property insurance bill. A similar bill, but limited to more highly capitalized insurers, was approved overwhelmingly by the Legislature last year, but vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist. The new bill increases the required initial capital to $15 million from $4 million and requires a minimum of $12 million going forward. According to the bill's sponsor, Rep. Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, it is designed to increase the likelihood that insurers can pay all their claims by allowing more rate flexibility to improve surplus levels. The bill allows limited rate increases over time with a maximum increase of 5% the first year, 10% the second year, and 15% thereafter. Named insured must also be given at least 180-days notice of nonrenewal. CFO and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink says she opposes what she refers to as the “deregulation bill.” She says, “I think you've got to have to some governor with a small 'g' on the industry... if they believe some increase is justified, they still need to come to the regulator to make their case.”

MEETINGS


HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY
Hillsborough County and the Hillsborough Metropolitan Planning Organization will hold a public meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, April 1, at Tampa Palms Elementary School, 6100 Tampa Palms Blvd. to provide information and discuss segment A of the Bruce B. Downs Boulevard widening project. The project runs from Bearss Ave. to Palm Springs Blvd. in the New Tampa area. The purpose of the meeting is to receive input from citizens as to whether this segment should be reconstructed as a six-lane roadway to preserve right-of-way for future rapid transit, or as an eight-lane roadway as currently designed. Construction is estimated to start on the designed eight lanes in the summer of 2011 and should be completed by spring of 2014. The projected cost of the project is roughly $55 million. County and MPO staff, local agencies and consultants will be at the meeting to discuss project details, future transit plans and to answer questions.

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