Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Monday, February 17, 2014
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Bullard starts second session in Tallahassee

State Sen. Dwight Bullard said he expects the upcoming legislative session to be better than last year's, when he was sidelined for most of it because of medical issues.

This time around, Bullard, a Democrat who represents the Florida Keys, intends to tackle one of the state's most pressing issues, windstorm insurance coverage.

The cost of windstorm insurance through the state's insurer of last resort, Citizens Property Insurance Corp., has steadily risen in the past decade. Several insurance watchdog groups, including Fair Insurance Rates in Monroe (FIRM), have questioned the rate increases, as rates have far exceeded payouts, they say.

Bullard has proposed a radical policy change. His bill would allow property owners with mortgages to forego windstorm insurance coverage, which is currently required by lending institutions.

Making windstorm insurance coverage optional is an attempt to drive down the overall cost of insurance, Bullard said.

"I see this as a conversation starter," said Bullard, who was not sure if his bill would be supported by his colleagues. "I and others have grown tired of the do-nothing Citizens bills."

Last year, the Legislature debated a bill that would have led to substantial increases in Citizens' rates. After weeks of heated debate, legislators backed off the rate increases and opted to approve smaller procedural changes.

It is not uncommon in the Florida Keys for residents who have paid cash for their homes, or paid off their mortgages, to opt out of windstorm coverage. Historically, more damage has been done by flooding, not wind, during hurricanes and tropical storms that have brushed or struck the Florida Keys.

Monroe County Commissioner and FIRM board member Heather Carruthers was not sure the government could institute such regulations on mortgage companies, but she does understand the logic behind Bullard's idea, especially in the Keys where strict building codes have led to stronger buildings.

"It's very interesting," Carruthers said. "I would like to not have to pay for windstorm. I would rather self insure."

Also, Bullard has proposed a bill that would increase Florida's minimum wage of $7.93 an hour to $10.10 an hour. The Legislature did pass a minimum wage increase of 17 cents an hour last year, but that is far from fair, Bullard said.

His bill also states that an employer cannot pay workers like servers, who rely more on tips, a rate less than the state's minimum wage.

Neither Bullard nor Keys Rep. Holly Raschein filed a bill to make the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority board an elected position. Currently, the board is appointed by the governor.

During the last county elections, voters voted nearly 3-1 in favor of the board becoming an elected body.

Last session, Raschein was successful in lobbying the House to vote in favor of her bill changing the aqueduct authority board to an elected body, but Bullard's companion bill never went anywhere and the proposal died.

The two state leaders have opted not to sponsor an aqueduct authority bill this session, but focus their attention on other issues, they said.

Bullard, who was a freshman senator last session, was hospitalized for a nearly a week late last session. His hospitalization came at a time when many bills were being amended and/or facing their first and second votes on the Senate floor.

Bullard, 37, attributed his hospitalization to his "blood sugar being too high." He said he planned to "change his diet" and make "a lot of changes" to make sure he's available for all of the 2014 session.

tohara@keysnews.com

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