Poor turnout ends local hearings on rate hikes

An Opinion By Jan Bergemann 
President, Cyber Citizens For Justice, Inc.

Published July 17, 2006 


And here we go again! Folks, it's great to moan and groan, bitch and complain -- if it's in the right moment and at the right location. 

But when public hearings and town hall meetings are scheduled to receive public input, it is important that YOU show up and speak YOUR mind.

Everybody complains about the huge increases in premiums to buy property insurance. So, where are YOU when the rallies are organized, the meetings take place -- and it's time to voice your anger about these problems? Not only are special rallies organized, it's as well election campaign time! Great chance to tell the candidates that you are a really unhappy camper!

Would you rather wait until the meetings are again held only in Tallahassee -- see article below -- in order to claim that you “can't make it” because the meetings are “too far away”?

I know it's more convenient to watch "American Idol" from your lounge chair -- or to watch "Reality TV" all evening long.

But the REAL reality is that all of us are getting fleeced.  More and more people are getting priced out of their condos and homes -- and certain people are planning to pass an "eminent domain" bill for condos -- sneaked in through the back door of the legislature!


The Governor vetoed this ugly bill -- SB 1556 -- and ordered the DBPR to hold town hall meetings all over the State of Florida. This week begins the first series of these meetings, down South in the Tri-County area, where we have already seen signs of developers trying to acquire prime land.  Silently, the developer will buy unit after unit, take over the board and try to force out the families who call this older building their home.


Is your condo the next target? You never know! But if it is, if this bill ever gets enacted your chances to fight the hostile take-over are slim to none!


So, maybe it's in your own best interest to skip the reality TV show, cancel the meeting of the bridge club and postpone the potluck-dinner! It's time to make your voice heard -- it's about time!


Give the panel members an earful! Tell them you have had it with the lack of protection of consumer rights in Florida. 



Poor turnout ends local hearings on rate hikes

Because of low attendance, regulators have decided to hold public hearings on insurance rate-hike requests only in Tallahassee.

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald

Published Thu, Jul. 13, 2006


When Tommy Mack and Joan Manges traveled from Key West to Davie to protest a 92 percent rate increase requested by Florida Peninsula Insurance in May, they were surprised they were the only two consumers there.

''I was really disappointed,'' said Mack, who is a member of FIRM (Fair Insurance Rates In Monroe), an active consumer group in Monroe County. ``Maybe we spend too much time fighting the inevitable.''

Last August, not one consumer showed up at a hearing to air concerns about a rate hike by Hartford Group in Fort Myers. Just five showed up in Orlando last month to sound off on a State Farm request.

Such sparse turnouts have persuaded state regulators to no longer hold public hearings throughout the state on rate increase requests from insurers, despite the flurry of double-digit increases faced by consumers. After November, the public hearings will be held in Tallahassee.

Yet some lawmakers say the hearings drew scant crowds because they were poorly advertised and consumers just didn't know about them. The insurance department did not do mass mailings to consumers but instead posted a press release, relying on the media to publicize the events held around the state.

State law requires public hearings on rate hike requests of 15 percent or more so consumers have a chance to voice their concerns about the impact of higher premiums.

Yet, in 10 such public hearings held last year, a total of 132 consumers showed up, according to data provided by the Office of Insurance Regulation.


'It doesn't make sense to spend taxpayers' money this way,'' said Bob Lotane, an insurance department spokesman.

Lotane said the public will still have a chance to comment via e-mail or by phone as well as attend the hearings in Tallahassee. The department also is looking to see if the hearings can be televised on the Florida Channel, a public television station.

The insurance department didn't have an immediate estimate on how much it costs to send staffers, including the head of its property/casualty division, to public hearings outside of Tallahassee. Lotane said staffers lose about two days of work time for each hearing. Those hearings generally include afternoon and evening sessions to better accommodate consumers who work full time. ''The turnout doesn't square with time and money that has to be spent to stage these hearings,'' he added.

State Sen. Steven Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, agrees there's no point in holding a public hearing if just a handful of people show up. But he disagrees with the insurance department's solution.

Rather than just holding future hearings in Tallahassee, Geller believes the public meetings need to be better advertised.


Low attendance hasn't been a problem for hearings called by individual lawmakers. About 80 people, including local officials, attended a meeting in Key West last month called by U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen to hear gripes against Citizens Property Insurance. The Republican congresswoman from Miami shared the podium with Florida Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty. FIRM helped publicize that meeting.

In a way, these public hearings are a waste of time and money, said Bill Newton, executive director of Florida Consumer Action Network, a consumer advocate group.

''Right now, the public comments are flavor for the public record, but they don't have the weight of evidence. We need real participation,'' Newton said.

He believes consumers should have a public counsel to represent them and intervene on their behalf in rate request filings, similar to the procedure allowed in phone, gas and electric rate cases that come up before Florida's Public Service Commission.

Despite its new policy, the insurance department will go forward with a public meeting in Key West on Aug. 1 to discuss Citizens Property Insurance's proposed rate increases for Monroe County.

Citizens as well as the state's insurance consumer advocate and FIRM are expected to present evidence to justify or derail the insurer's rate demand.