Throughout my career, I have spent a great deal of time in Tallahassee, working on a broad range of insurance issues. Even with that experience, Tallahassee is a strange place to me. It is also a distant place to most Floridians – both in location and in familiarity. Some of us know the legislators in our own districts sent to represent home interests, but few know anything about the other 158 members who together create the laws which govern us. For most of us, Tallahassee is something we like to passively complain about – the punch line in an all-to-familiar joke.
Despite this distance, there are a number of legislators and civic leaders who consistently fight for the 8 million policyholders across our state who should be recognized. Over the course of the next few months, I will highlight several of these legislators, explain their positions on insurance related issues, and generally shine light on the entire process.
For our inaugural profile, I could think of no one better to highlight than Senator Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey). A 40 year resident of Pasco County, Senator Fasano was first elected to the Florida legislature in 1994 and has since developed a reputation as something of a maverick – a legislator who refuses to bow to special interests and who always places the needs of his constituents first.
This rebellious streak was featured front and center during some of the most contentious debates of the 2011 legislative session. Senator Fasano bucked the powerful insurance industry lobby, as well as his own party’s leadership, to fight for the people of Florida. Despite heavy pressure from Senate leadership, Senator Fasano fought and managed to defeat several extremely harmful bills that were making their way through the state Senate. One bill, sponsored by Senator Alan Hays (R- Umatilla), would have completely deregulated the insurance industry, allowing companies to charge whatever the market would bear, almost assuredly plunging the state into further economic peril.
Even when bad bills managed to pass through his committees, Senator Fasano consistently offered the most pro-consumer amendments, even in the face of certain defeat. Similarly, he always asked the toughest questions, to both powerful insurance lobbyists and his fellow Senators alike. The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, the industry’s principal trade group, even went so far as to call Fasano’s efforts to stop the passage of anti-consumer bills a "crusade."
Of course, we all know that the insurance industry eventually managed to get its most prized bill, Senate Bill 408, through the legislature and onto Governor Scott’s desk. Rest assured that Senator Fasano, along with countless pro-consumer groups across the state, lobbied the Governor to come down on the side of consumers. Predictably, Governor Scott sided with Big Insurance.
After Governor Scott, the de facto leader of Mike Fasano’s political party, signed Senate Bill 408 into law, Senator Fasano refused to lie down and said the following:
“Big business has triumphed over the needs of the consumer,” Fasano said. “Insurance companies will only get richer because of this legislation while policyholders will have to pay more of their hard earned money for what will amount to less coverage.”
Unfortunately, due to term limits, Senator Fasano will be unable to run for reelection for his District 11 Senate seat in 2012. Though his time in the Florida Senate may be winding down, we surely have not seen the last of the Mike Fasano. I am confident Senator Fasano will keep up pressure on the insurance industry and all of those legislators who put the interests of their powerful lobby in front of their own constituents.
In the months before the January legislative session, I look forward to working with Senator Fasano, not only to fix some of the most egregious anti-consumer provisions recently signed into law, but also to draft new, pro-consumer legislation to protect against any further insurance industry overreaches.
You too can help in this fight. I urge you to visit PolicyholdersofFlorida.com and sign up to receive our newsletter as we develop more ways to fight for the rights of Florida’s 8 million policyholders. Frankly, it’s a fight this state can’t afford to lose.