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Born to Lead

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  • | 7:10 a.m. April 1, 2011
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  • Florida
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What. Freshman legislator takes on ambitious insurance reform bills.
Issue. Can a freshman take on big bills and stay on the fast-track to leadership roles?
Impact. Personal injury protection fraud costing Florida auto policyholders more than $1 billion a year.

A year ago March, Bradenton insurance agent, real estate broker and Florida House candidate James E. “Jim” Boyd joined the annual Manatee Chamber of Commerce pilgrimage to the Capitol to meet with legislators, including former State Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

This year, the chamber delegation came to meet with him, now Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton.

And for good reason.

Boyd, 54, sits on five committees, including the House Insurance and Banking Committee. It's on this committee that he's making his presence felt early in the two-month legislative session with two bills that the committee's chairman, Bryan Nelson, R-Apopka, says are among “the top three or four bills that we want to pass out of the committee.”

One attacks auto insurance fraud as a means to lower automobile insurance rates. The other takes on Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state's oversized property insurer, to put it on a more level playing field with private insurers.

“I feel like I've been able to hit the ground running,” says Boyd, who also sits on the Economic Affairs Committee with Nelson. “My big priority was helping get the economy on track, getting people back to work,” he says about his 2010 campaign message.

That message resonated well with voters, with Boyd winning 62% of the District 68 vote. The district covers western Manatee County and southwest Hillsborough County.

And it didn't hurt to be endorsed by the well-respected Galvano early in the campaign.

Speaking recently about his replacement, Galvano says: “The freshman class has pointed out that he's distinguished himself with the other members. He's generating respect.”

Nelson appreciates having a freshman with a wealth of insurance knowledge and experience on his committee. Boyd heads Boyd Insurance and Investment Services, and its 25 employees, as its CEO. He's also president and partner of The Boyd Group, a commercial and investment real estate company among other business interests.

A Palmetto native and now a Bradenton resident, Boyd calls the economy and jobs “mission one,” and says a “competitive, vibrant [insurance] market helps the economy as well.”

Nelson sums up Boyd's vision this way: “Jim has a real good feel for where we want to be in 10 years, not just where we want to be tomorrow.”

Already, Boyd's a favorite to chair the committee in 2013. “I couldn't pick a better member on that committee,” says Nelson, who's also an insurance agent. “We'd love to have him as chairman of insurance in two years,” adds Nelson, who faces term limits in 2012. “I think he'll do a fine job.”

'Rogue Republican'

Boyd's election win last fall was not his first venture into politics, or his first win. The Palmetto native was elected to the city council in 1989 and later became vice-mayor and served as the mayor for two months. He sat on the city council from 1989-1993.

Since then, he's focused on his business and community interests, raising two children with his wife of 27 years, Sandy, and waiting for the right time to re-enter the political arena.

Galvano's exit provided the right opportunity at the right time.

Politics runs through Boyd's veins, though a shade or two redder than his ancestors' blood.

Grandfather Hugh Boyd served in the House in 1941. The H.H. Boyd Bridge on U.S. 41 in Terra Ceia is named for him.

Uncle Wilbur H. Boyd served four terms in the House from 1958-1966 before moving up to the Senate, where he chaired the education committee and rose to become president pro-tempore from 1970-72. Now deceased, both were Democrats.

“I'm the rogue Republican,” says Boyd, quick to note that his grandfather and uncle were fiscal conservatives and “Bible-believing family and community men.”

Rep. Boyd credits his uncle, Sen. Boyd, for motivating him to community service early in life. As a fifth-grader he served in Tallahassee as a Senate page for his uncle. “It stems back that far,” he reflects.

Former State Sen. Pat Neal, an ex-Democrat turned Republican, describes Wilbur Boyd as “one of the powerful figures in our state and city for a long time, a respected and respectable person, friend and competitor.”

More than a mentor, Sen. Boyd was also a father figure to Rep. Boyd, says Neal. Rep. Boyd's father, also named Hugh, died when Rep. Boyd was 3 years old.

Boyd, who comes from a family of farmers, says his uncle taught him how to hunt. “We got to do a lot of hunting together,” recalls Boyd, who now takes his son quail hunting.

Says Boyd, “It's something I enjoy, being with my son and my friends, walking in the woods, enjoying nature, and being with the people you love and care about.” He also enjoys golf and spending time at his Maggie Valley cabin amidst the western hills of North Carolina.

That love of the outdoors explains why Boyd also sits on the Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee and the Agriculture and Natural Resources Subcommittee.

If all that weren't enough, Boyd serves on the Manatee Memorial Hospital board of governors, chairs the executive committee of First America Bank and sits on a number of civic boards.

'Ambitious' bills

Boyd jumped into lawmaking this session, taking advantage of Speaker Dean Cannon's direction to House committee chairmen not to carry their own bills in their committees.

That strategy gives freshmen an opening to get their bills heard — more so than in past years when chairmen and other veteran House members had a much easier time than newbies getting bills on agendas.

Boyd used his industry connections and knowledge of all things insurance to get his bills in front of committees in the early weeks of this session. He refers to the measures as “two pretty ambitious bills for a freshman.”

Boyd intends to lower automobile insurance rates with his auto insurance fraud bill by attacking so-called “cost drivers” tied to fraud. Those rates are among the highest in the country.

At a January meeting of the Insurance and Banking Subcommittee, industry experts told the committee that costs for the state's personal injury protection system known as PIP, or no-fault motor vehicle insurance, are rising 70% a year, costing a typical two-car family $100 a year in added premiums to cover fraud.

Florida is one of 12 states with no-fault auto insurance. PIP provides $10,000 of coverage per person, including all passengers, for bodily injuries from a motor vehicle accident.

“Florida has the infamous distinction of having four of the top 10 cities for fraud including his Tampa and my Orlando,” says Nelson, referring broadly to regions of the state Boyd and he represent.

Boyd's “Comprehensive Insurance Fraud Investigation and Protection Act,” House Bill 1411, requires law enforcement to use a long-form to list all passengers in accident reports to eliminate a problem with so-called “phantom passengers,” adds civil penalties for those convicted of fraud, permits PIP policies allowing arbitration of disputes, caps attorney fee awards in arbitration and legal proceedings, and addresses billing practices of medical providers, among other provisions.

In his efforts, Boyd has faced some opposition to parts of his bill by the Florida Justice Association (aka the trial bar) and the Florida Chiropractic Association, but Boyd nonetheless shepherded it through with bipartisan support, 12-2.

In drafting the bill, Boyd says he worked with a broad coalition of interest groups and stakeholders. Those parties included the Florida Consumer Action Network, the Florida Insurance Council, the state's division of insurance fraud, the attorney general's office, the crime bureau, and the former insurance consumer advocate.

Following the public testimony given to the subcommittee, Boyd showed his collaborative style by acknowledging a need to address some of the issues mentioned, saying, “I know there's a little work to be done on this.”

In his second endeavor, House Bill 1243, Boyd addresses Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the state's oversized property insurer that's grown to have the largest market share in the state with 1.3 million policyholders. That measure aims to reduce the cost of post-hurricane assessments.

Boyd says Citizens is 50% underfunded on an actuarial sound basis because of artificially low rates. “There's not much way you can compete,” he says about private insurers. Future assessments to pay off claims after a major hurricane also hang over almost all policyholders.

The bill also would allow Citizens to increase its rates as much as 25% a year, up from the current 10% cap on annual premium increases, and limit Citizens' coverage of homes in non-high-risk areas with high replacement values.

The House Insurance and Banking Subcommittee passed the bill March 30, a day after the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee approved an identical version of it, Senate Bill 1714.

“I consider [that] leveling the playing field attracts capital back to the market,” says Boyd.

If all goes well, Nelson predicts Boyd can look forward to more friendly visits from Manatee Chamber officials for another seven years. Says Nelson, “In eight years we're going to look back and wish we didn't have term limits because Jim Boyd's going to make us proud.”


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