Bush enters dispute over regulating banks, insuranceBy LUCY MORGAN, Times Tallahassee Bureau Chief
© St. Petersburg Times
TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Jeb Bush on Tuesday stepped into a legislative battle over regulating the state's banking and insurance industries in an effort to reach a compromise that has eluded legislators for three years.
The governor's move occurred as members of a Senate committee approved a bill intended as a compromise but described by Senate Majority Leader Jim King as "fragile as eggshells."
King urged a crowd that jammed a meeting of the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee to "stay out of it, just take a deep breath, get an adult beverage and maybe when you come back we'll have it worked out."
A spokeswoman for Bush said the governor's staff will take all of the proposals offered by lawmakers and work with Comptroller Bob Milligan and Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher and legislative leaders to create a bill acceptable to all sides.
Gallagher and Milligan, both Republicans, have filed to run for the new post of chief financial officer, which replaces their current posts.
The prolonged and bitter debate between the House and Senate has mirrored a dispute between Milligan and Gallagher over how the new combined agency should be governed.
Milligan and the House want the elected official who seeks campaign contributions insulated from those who regulate banking and insurance. Gallagher and the Senate contend that the elected official should be in charge of the regulators to make him more responsive to voters.
Gallagher, long considered the GOP favorite for the office, already has collected $1.4-million to run for the job, but Milligan is so upset over the Legislature's indecision that he has announced plans to oppose Gallagher in the GOP primary in September.
That would be a nightmare for the state's Republicans, who had hoped to talk Milligan into running for Congress.
The new Senate bill approved Tuesday would require the appointment of division directors to regulate insurance and banking, with those directors to be appointed by the governor in consultation with the chief financial officer. They would also have to be unanimously approved by other Cabinet members.
The bill would also repeal a current law that restricts campaign contributions to the insurance commissioner and comptroller from insurance companies and banking officials to $100, allowing candidates for chief finance officer to collect up to the $500 limit from anyone.
Bill sponsor Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, said the bill is similar to one lawmakers approved on the last night of the regular session in March. That deal fell apart when the House added some last-minute amendments.
Latvala refused to discuss what, if any concessions, he has been willing to make in talks with the House and the governor's staff.
"It's a fluid conversation," Latvala said. "Our agreement was we weren't going to talk about it."
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