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    2 houses finally agree on new financial officer

    Unanimous votes in the House and Senate end feuding and clear the way for one GOP candidate to seek the job.

    By ANITA KUMAR, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 4, 2002


    TALLAHASSEE -- After years of failed deals, the state Legislature finally agreed Friday on the duties of a powerful new leader who will oversee the insurance and banking industries in Florida.

    The unanimous vote by feuding chambers means that Comptroller Robert Milligan will drop out of the November race, clearing the way for Insurance Commissioner Tom Gallagher to run unopposed in the Republican primary.

    "It's no secret we were not looking forward to a primary between two strong Republican candidates," GOP spokesman Towson Fraser said. "We're glad there will be only one really strong candidate."

    The House and Senate reached the compromise in the last few days with guidance from Gallagher, Milligan and Gov. Jeb Bush, who were growing frustrated that the questions hadn't been resolved more than three years after voters first created the Cabinet job.

    The bill, which now goes to Bush for his signature, provided Milligan with the separation he wanted between the chief financial officer and the regulation of banks and insurance companies.

    While the CFO will be responsible for most aspects of banking and insurance, the regulation of those industries will fall to two executives who will report to the Cabinet.

    "Everybody's satisfied," said Rep. JD Alexander, the Lake Wales Republican who sponsored the bill in the House. "The Senate certainly won some points, but the House did get the clear independent depoliticized regulation."

    The chief financial officer merges two jobs now held by Gallagher and Milligan. Milligan opposed giving all the duties to one person, saying it would put too much power in one place. Gallagher said voters intended to reduce the size of the state government when they approved the merger, not just create two new agencies.

    Milligan was out of town Friday but talked to his staff to find out the status of the bill. Sunny Phillips, his legislative director, said he was pleased with the bill and would drop out of the race for chief financial officer.

    "I believe the legislation ... is a win for Florida's consumers," said Gallagher, who already has raised more than $1-million for the race. "It embraces all of the goals that I have supported -- leaner, more efficient government; accountability to consumers; and appointed professionals overseeing the regulation of financial institutions, securities and insurance."

    Sen. Tom Rossin, Senate Democratic leader, said the deal was reached to give Milligan what he wanted so he wouldn't run.

    "Gallagher in the end realized if he didn't cave in Milligan was going to run against him," he said.

    Alexander agreed the House got most of what it wanted, but Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, the sponsor of the bill in the Senate, wouldn't discuss politics. "I'm happy everything came together," he said simply.

    The House passed the measure 110-0; the Senate approved it a couple of hours later 39-0, though one senator expressed serious reservations.

    "I can't let this bill go by without expressing my deep concerns," said Sen. Steven Geller, D-Hallandale Beach. "It goes directly against the will of the voters ... (but) this is the best we can do."

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