Sink rips DeLand legislator for stalling on seniors bill
Aaron Deslatte | Tallahassee Bureau
March 25, 2009
TALLAHASSEE — The state’s chief financial officer has angrily accused state Rep. Pat Patterson of DeLand of bottling up legislation meant to increase the penalties for unscrupulous insurance agents who bilk seniors out of their life savings.
Alex Sink, a Democrat, has been pushing the reform for more than a year to mandate prison time for insurance agents who coax those 65 and older into buying insurance annuities that might not start paying benefits for years.
The so-called Safeguard Our Seniors bill (HB 981) creates a third-degree felony out of the practice known as "twisting" and "churning" and would impose prison sentences of up to five years on agents who intentionally distort the type of life-insurance product they’re selling or coax seniors into liquidating their assets to buy an annuity that might not make any payments to them for years.
It passed in the Senate last year but died in the House when leaders there wanted to strip out the felony penalty, and this year is shaping up for the same outcome.
But Sink’s office is particularly miffed at Patterson, a Republican and insurance agent who chairs the House’s Insurance, Business and Financial Affairs Policy Committee. He has told Sink’s staff he doesn’t plan to give the bill a hearing in the 60-day legislative session.
"The Safeguard Our Seniors legislation would protect Florida’s seniors against financial fraud and it is a bipartisan bill, sponsored by a Republican senator and a Democratic representative," Sink said in a statement sent to the Orlando Sentinel on Tuesday. "I think it’s appalling that Rep. Patterson would rather play politics than bring this important piece of legislation which protects seniors before his committee."
Rep. Keith Fitzgerald, the Sarasota Democrat carrying the bill, called the gridlock a "disgrace" and appealed to House Speaker Pro Tem Ron Reagan on Monday to get the bill heard but said he was told Patterson wasn’t interested.
"I don’t know what we’re doing up here; we’re not hearing bills," Fitzgerald said.
"I think the state of Florida is in a state of crisis and we’ve got committee chairs who just will not hear bills on important matters.
"If we were generally tied up solving the economic crisis of this state, I would understand it … but we’re not hearing those bills, either."
Patterson didn’t respond to messages left with his Capitol staff. But the Senate sponsor, Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, laid the blame squarely at the feet of the bill’s biggest political critic last year: Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., or MetLife.
"I’m sure it’s basically MetLife out there being afraid that their agents might be committing felonies, and they don’t want them to be accused of that," Bennett said Tuesday, adding he planned to talk to Patterson about hearing the bill.
Aaron Deslatte can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 850-222-5564.