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Politics

Insurance, votes stoke a rivalry

By MELANIE AVE
Published September 24, 2006


The rivals for the state Senate District 16 seat politely but pointedly sparred over experience, leadership and insurance during the taping of a televised political show airing today.

It is the only Senate race in Florida involving two House members, and each candidate points to legislative experience as a prime qualification.

Democrat Charlie Justice of St. Petersburg and Republican Kim Berfield of Clearwater have both served in the House for six years.

Justice said he worked on medical records privacy, benefits for nationally certified teachers and restrictions to protect lakes from gun range pollution.

"I think I've been a voice for education in Florida," said Justice, a 38-year-old academic adviser at the University of South Florida.

Berfield said she has demonstrated leadership by making sure Floridians can rate the performance of doctors and hospitals, writing legislation to protect waterfront property from condominium development and supporting workers' compensation reforms.

Justice asked Berfield about her vote for a bill this year allowing insurers to raise rates up to 5 percent annually without government review.

What does she say to people who are being "squeezed out of their homes" because of rising insurance premiums, asked Justice, who voted against the bill.

Berfield, a 35-year-old advertising consultant, didn't answer the question directly. Instead, she said Justice doesn't understand the insurance process.

"The Legislature does not actually implement an increase or decrease in our rates," said Berfield, a former chairwoman of the House Insurance Committee. "The Office of Insurance Regulation must approve it."

Berfield asked Justice about the sinkhole insurance bill he has been "running a little bit away from."

"On two occasions when it was extremely proconsumer, you voted against that legislation and then came back and finally supported it," she said.

Justice said he originally didn't support the legislation because it would have made it harder for homeowners to hire lawyers when insurers reject their claims. He supported the bill's final passage.

"In the last six years you've never really stood up and advocated for anything related to insurance," Berfield said.

At the end of the discussion, Justice pointed to his House record.

"If you look over the last six years vote by vote, issue by issue, my votes my record clearly reflects the values of the community," he said.

Said Berfield, "We need people to run who will get up and fight on behalf of these issues, who can actually make a difference and not just talk about them."

District 16 covers parts of Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.

The discussion can be seen at 11 a.m. today on Political Connections, the Bay News 9 cable program featuring anchor Al Ruechel and St. Petersburg Times political editor Adam Smith.

Melanie Ave can be reached at 727 893-8813 or mave@sptimes.com.

[Last modified September 24, 2006, 01:10:17]


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