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Bondi provides flood insurance update
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Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi addresses members of the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce Jan. 9 at the TradeWinds Island Resorts in St. Pete Beach.
ST. PETE BEACH – Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi told members of the Tampa Beaches Chamber of Commerce Jan. 9 not to panic on the issue of flood insurance.

Speaking at the chamber’s annual dinner at the TradeWinds Island Resorts, Bondi said she and the Florida Congressional delegation are working hard on the issue and hope to have a solution to it in a few weeks.

She said Congressman Vern Buchanan, R-Sarasota, is leading the charge among the Florida delegation in an effort to delay the implementation of the Biggert Waters Flood Insurance Reform Act of 2012.

Key provisions of the legislation require FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program to raise rates to reflect true flood risk, make the program more financially stable and change how Flood Insurance Rate Map (FIRM) updates impact policyholders. The changes mean premium rate increases for many Florida policyholders over time. Some of the rate increases are projected as high as 400 percent, depending on location.

Buchanan is the only member from Florida on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax policy, international trade, health care, and Social Security.

Bondi said she spent the past two days on the phone with Buchanan discussing the issue.

“He wanted to assure us that they’re doing everything they can,” said Bondi.

Bondi said there is a bill before the U.S. Senate that would delay the FEMA mandate.

Following a 10-day recess, she said she expects it to pass.

“We don’t think we’ll have a fix for it (before the recess) but when they come back in a couple of weeks, we will,” Bondi said. “We are going to fight for this. This is unsustainable. It’s going to put people out of their homes everywhere (if no changes are made).”

To get an idea of how important the issue is for Floridians, Buchanan told Bondi about 38 percent of all the flood insurance policies nationwide cover Florida homeowners.

“So Congress knows how important this is to us here in Florida and certainly our Florida delegation does,” she said. “I’m going to meet with them and I’ll be talking with them constantly. Don’t panic. We’re going to make this work and we’re going to fix this for Floridians.”

On other topics, Bondi said her office is:

• Continuing efforts on the state’s behalf in the lawsuit against BP Oil.

• Fighting timeshare resale fraud that targets out of state timeshare owners.

• Fighting organized retail theft operations that target businesses such as Publix. “This isn’t retail theft. It’s organized fraud and we’re taking them down,” said Bondi.

• Investigating business-to-business scams. “What they’re doing is creating these fake invoices and I guarantee you people in this room have been scammed by this,” said Bondi. “It may be $400 or $500 at a time but it adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

• Fighting human trafficking. “This is modern day slavery at its worst,” said Bondi. A lot of the victims are female teen runaways, she said. Bondi said, among others things, her office is working on a private-public partnership to take young women off the streets and put them in facilities, such as the Florida Sheriff’s Youth Ranches.

• Addressing drug-addicted babies. Now that pill mills have been dismantled in the state, Bondi said the next chapter on this front is preventing babies being born addicted to prescription drugs. Bondi said recent figures were as high as 20 percent of babies born over a two-month period at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Tampa and 30 percent at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg.

• Stopping the flow of synthetic drugs. “The fear was they are hallucinogenic and have psychotic effects,” said Bondi. “I had two FDLE agents in Tallahassee go to the Tallahassee Mall and they bought this stuff. They came back, analyzed it and said this is heroin. And our kids are buying this legally.” Bondi later signed an emergency order to stop sales in Florida, allowing local law enforcement agencies to make more arrests for sales at retail stores.

• Investigating Medicaid fraud, which she said is a big problem in south Florida.

In other action, Maureen Lucido, area director of human resources for Hyatt Regency, took over for Clyde Smith as chair of the chamber’s board of directors.

The chamber’s business of the year awards went to Jackie’s Bistro, St. Pete Beach; Paradise News, St. Pete Beach; Bayprint, St. Petersburg; Water and Fire Reclamation, St. Pete Beach; Loews Don CeSar Hotel, St. Pete Beach; American Cancer Society, and TradeWinds Island Resorts, St. Pete Beach.
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