Thursday, January 17, 2008

FLORIDA DIGEST January 17, 2008

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South Florida battered by highest inflation rate in U.S.

By Harriet Johnson Brackey
January 17, 2008

In 2007, the nation had the highest inflation rate in 17 years. And there'smore bad news: South Florida suffered through a more rapid increase inconsumer prices than any other metropolitan area.

Extreme price pressures reported by the federal Bureau of Labor Statisticson Wednesday are becoming routine for South Florida consumers, who arepaying far more for housing and gas than the rest of the nation. Here, agallon of unleaded on Wednesday averaged $3.18; the national average was$3.05.

Primarily because of those two factors, gasoline and housing, inflation wasgreater here last year - at 5.8 percent - than in Chicago (4.7 percent),Seattle (4.6 percent), and New York (3.7 percent).

"Some people tend to forget that gasoline has an effect on everything else,"said Bureau of Labor Statistics economist Karen Ransom.

And on consumers' well-being, said Lynn Benson, of Hollywood. "You stillhave to buy food. You still have to buy gas," she said, as she dropped intothe Palmetto Park Square shopping mall in Boca Raton. "There are certainthings you can't avoid. So there's less in the bank at the end of the day."

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Miami Herald

Enough is enough

Posted on Thu, Jan. 17, 2008

State insurance regulators and lawmakers are sticking up for Floridaconsumers, who are long overdue for a break. Insurance Commissioner KevinMcCarty's slap at Allstate on Wednesday was an appropriate response to theinsurer's lack of cooperation. Regulators and consumers deserve to know whysome insurers want to raise rates after participating in a state programthat should have lowered, not raised, premiums.

Soaring rates

Mr. McCarty has barred Allstate from selling any new insurance policies inthe state until it complies fully with a subpoena for specific documents.Being cut off from the lucrative auto-insurance market could hurt Allstate,Florida's second-largest auto insurer, but Floridians have also been hurt bysoaring property-insurance rates.

Last year, state legislators made a good-faith effort to reduce insurancerates. Insurers complained that their reinsurance costs had skyrocketedafter a slew of hurricanes in 2004 and 2005. So the Legislature expanded thestate's catastrophe fund, assuming more risk, to offer insurers cheaperback-up insurance. Insurers were required to pass the saving on topolicyholders. Indeed, some insurers did: 32 companies have lowered rates byan average 22 percent.

Allstate initially indicated it would reduce rates, too, by 14 percent. Thenit filed a request to hike rates an astounding 42 percent. Regulators wantto know what justifies such a large increase.

The request outraged policyholders, lawmakers and regulators -- and rightlyso. It raised troubling questions about Allstate's reinsurance program, itsdealings with insurance-rating agencies and its relationships with companiesthat create computer models to predict hurricane risk and losses. WasAllstate acting in good faith?

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Miami Herald

State bans Allstate from selling new auto policies

Posted on Thu, Jan. 17, 2008

Cranking up the heat, Florida regulators will suspend Allstate's license tosell auto insurance in the state until the company cooperates with aninvestigation into why its homeowners rates haven't fallen.

It's an unprecedented move for the state Office of Insurance Regulation,which is on the warpath because homeowners' premiums are still high despitepassage of an insurance overhaul law in January 2007. The office is seekinginformation concerning how Allstate sets its rates and pays claims, and thecompany has refused to provide it.

''This is an ongoing and blatant disregard for the laws of the state ofFlorida. This can't and won't continue,'' Insurance Commissioner KevinMcCarty said Wednesday.

The move sends a powerful message to the rest of Florida's insuranceindustry that rates must come down. Already, regulators and a special Senatepanel have subpoenaed other insurers, and Gov. Charlie Crist has threateneda class-action lawsuit to compel the companies to provide insurance reliefto homeowners.

The state's action against Allstate is expected to cause minimal financialpain for the company, especially if the ban is brief, because existingpolicies are exempted. Allstate customers can renew, and consumers lookingfor carriers will be able to find another insurer in Florida's highlycompetitive auto insurance market.

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Miami Herald

Same-sex marriage ban may not make ballot

Posted on Tue, Jan. 15, 2008

A proposed constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage in Florida maynot make it to voters this year, after organizers -- who proclaimed a monthago they had gotten it on the November ballot -- found out Monday theyhaven't collected enough signatures after all.

A counting glitch -- which has the state pointing fingers at Miami-DadeCounty -- has resulted in falling 22,000 votersignatures short of the 611,000 needed to place the amendment on the ballot.

The group has a tight deadline -- Feb. 1 -- to get the signatures to stateelection officials.

A month ago, backers of the amendment declared they had met their goal andbegan attacking groups that had formed to fight the amendment. On Monday,the leader of the effort said he had little time to figure out whathappened, but said he would push volunteers to start gathering petitionsagain.

''There's a real temptation in pointing fingers, but we're interested ingetting the job done,'' said John Stemberger, an Orlando attorney andchairman of Florida4 ``We will immediately jump into action.I'm confident if every petition is counted that is submitted prior to Feb. 1then we should have no problem.''

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Obama first to decline FAU debate

Posted by Scott Travis at 1:49 PM

It's looking less likely there will be a Democratic presidential debate atFlorida Atlantic University.

The Republicans are all set for Jan. 24. The Democrats were invited toattend Jan. 27. But the leading candidates have been staying away fromFlorida due to their concerns over the state's early primaries.

Leadership Florida, the non-profit group organizing the debate, received acall this week from Barack Obama's campaign saying he regrets he will beunable to participate, group president Wendy Abberger said.

No word yet from the Hillary Clinton or John Edwards camp.

Mitch Caesar, chairman of the Broward County Democratic party and anexecutive board member for the national party, said this week: "Normally theoffering of a debate hosted at FAU would be a terrific energizing event, butunder the current situation today, I'd be surprised if the candidates showedup. But I wouldn't be surprised if one said yes the others would quicklyfollow."

POSTED IN: Election 2008 (21)


South Florida

Democrats urge party faithful to vote in Jan. 29 presidential primary
By Anthony Man

Political Writer

January 17, 2008

Democratic Party leaders from the state chairwoman down to local precinctleaders are sending e-mails, visiting political clubs and printing specialbumper stickers, all to sell the message that voting in the Jan. 29 Floridapresidential primary isn't a waste of time.

The unusual message stems from the topsy-turvy world of Democraticpresidential politics in Florida: a campaign without any candidates that hassome voters believing their votes are worthless.

Among the skeptics is Lee Smith of Davie, who hasn't decided if he'llparticipate in his party's presidential primary.

"It's meaningless," he said. "It would be really nice to have my vote count.Why bother if it would be just tossed aside and have it go in the trash?"

Sondra Lieber of Pembroke Pines said she hasn't missed an election in twodecades, and plans to vote in her city election and on the state propertytax amendment on Jan. 29. But she's not sure about the presidential primary.

"What's the point?" she said. "I want to know why I should bother."

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston, a national co-chairwoman ofHillary Clinton's presidential campaign, said many constituents have thesame question. She wants them to participate. "Florida votes will count,"she said.

Karen Thurman, chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, estimated 1.5million Florida Democrats may vote early, cast absentee ballots or go to thepolls on primary day. With that many votes involved - compared to 287,000people who participated in the New Hampshire Democratic primary - the resultwill generate news coverage.

"You can bet that the national media is going to be reporting the results inFlorida and analyzing what it means. The momentum from all that attentionwill propel all of the candidates into the Feb. 5 elections the nextTuesday," Wasserman Schultz said. "The press is not just going to ignoreFlorida."

Plenty of other party leaders, including Thurman and Broward DemocraticChairman Mitch Ceasar, are encouraging people to vote.

Ron Mills, the Democratic area leader for Fort Lauderdale and Dania Beach,said he's been to every political club and civic association meeting hecould find to push the message, and estimates he's given out about 3,000bumper stickers urging Democrats to "make it count" by voting on Jan. 29.

Part of why some think their votes won't count is that the primary will notselect national convention delegates, who technically are the ones who willdecide if Clinton, John Edwards, Barack Obama or someone else becomes thepresidential nominee.

The national party stripped Florida of its delegates when the state movedits primary to late January, which is earlier than the rules allow.

The absence of delegates turns the event into a so-called "beauty contest"judgment about candidates' popularity.

At the same time, the traditional states with early contests, including Iowaand New Hampshire, pressed Democratic candidates to avoid Florida becausethey didn't want the Sunshine State horning in on their ability to shape thefield of contenders.

The candidates were so afraid of upsetting voters in early states that theyagreed to stay out of Florida except to raise money.

There's no Republican candidate boycott, though the national party did stripthe state of half its delegates for the same rules violation.

Brenda Snipes, the Broward supervisor of elections, said plenty of Democratshave shown an interest in absentee voting and early voting. So far, thosenumbers are minuscule - barely 4 percent of the county's 452,000 registeredDemocrats.

Snipes said it's impossible to predict turnout.

"It's just kind of hard to tell. But it looks like people have a level ofinterest," she said.

Anthony Man can be reached at or 954-356-4550. Readthe Broward political blog every weekday at



Royal Palm leaders rally residents to oppose property tax changes

By Angel Streeter
January 17, 2008

Royal Palm Beach council members have staked out their front in the battleover property tax reform.

They've taken their fight to village homeowners associations, lettingresidents know they don't like the property tax amendment and how it mightnegatively impact the village.

All this month, the four council members are showing up at associationmeetings, making several appearances a week. Mayor David Lodwick isaveraging about three a week.

"My key message isn't to tell people how to vote," he said. "But to helpthem understand what's contained in the bill, what it does and doesn't doand let them make up their own minds."

On Jan. 29, voters will decide whether they want to double their homesteadexemptions and take their tax breaks with them when they move.

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