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Lawmakers battle over new position

Members of the House and Senate disagree about about the form and function of the new chief financial officer.

By LUCY MORGAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 13, 2000


TALLAHASSEE -- The new job of chief financial officer, a Cabinet member who will control the state's banking and insurance industries, has become the latest battleground between the House and Senate.

House members say Senate President Toni Jennings is trying to craft the job so she can run for it in 2002, when changes voters approved in 1998 take effect.

Jennings currently is a candidate for insurance commissioner, a job that will disappear as a result of the 1998 reforms.

On Wednesday, Senate Republican Leader Jack Latvala pushed a bill through his Governmental Operations Committee that establishes the new Cabinet post as part of a plan to reorganize two Cabinet agencies into one.

A different bill is making its way through the House.

The Senate would give final authority for regulating insurance companies to the chief financial officer. The House would let the governor and Cabinet delegate rate-making authority or reserve it for themselves.

The Senate bill creates an insurance rating commission, independent of the Department of Insurance, to consider rate increases. Latvala said he believes the independent commission takes such decisions out of the hands of politicians and forces them into the sunshine.

Latvala said he and Jennings wanted the bill to reflect the opinions of the committee and that it was not developed to suit Jennings.

But Rep. John Cosgrove, D-Miami, also running for insurance commissioner, said he believes the Senate bill creates "a political dinosaur" that would continue to regulate the insurance industry the way it wants to be regulated.

"She wants to have the position without doing the job," Cosgrove said of Jennings. "It's the biggest abdication of responsibility since Edward VII stepped down.

Jennings said she was not orchestrating the bill or even following it closely. She accused Cosgrove of "upping the rhetoric."

Rep. Greg Gay, a Republican who is opposing Jennings in this year's race for insurance commissioner, said he believes the Senate bill concentrates too much power -- and fundraising potential -- in one position.

"Whoever sits in that office would be in a good position to run for governor out of that job," Gay added.

Comptroller Bob Milligan also expressed concern over the Senate bill, saying it fails to create a separate agency for banking and insurance regulation, apart from the duties of the state's chief financial officer.

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