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Gov, Cabinet Go In-House For New Insurance Commissioner

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TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) - The impasse over Florida's next insurance commissioner has ended.

Remaining in-house, Gov. Rick Scott and state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater --- in their third attempt to reach a joint recommendation on the high-profile job --- agreed to promote Deputy Commissioner David Altmaier to become the state's top insurance regulator.

As commissioner, Altmaier, who a decade ago was working as a high-school math teacher and track coach in Kentucky, will see his salary increase from $115,000 a year to $165,000 a year.

Scott and Atwater also agreed that longtime Commissioner Kevin McCarty will remain with the state Office of Insurance Regulation for 60 days beyond his planned departure date to assist in the transition --- keeping him around as the hurricane season begins June 1.

"The dynamics of this office are so broad," Atwater said after Altmaier was chosen during a special meeting of Scott and the state Cabinet. "If something were to come early, (Altmaier) has another set of eyes and ears (in McCarty) that he can be turning to for guidance. But mainly it was for the broad, broad range of responsibilities that he's now taking on that he can have somebody nearby."

Scott and Atwater were required to agree on a new commissioner before the full Cabinet could vote on the selection. But they were at odds during two Cabinet meetings over the past month about the choice.

Attorney General Pam Bondi and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who serve on the Cabinet, supported the joint recommendation from Scott and Atwater to appoint Altmaier. The recommendation came Friday only after Atwater put up two other names --- state Rep. Bill Hager, R-Delray Beach, and Office of Insurance Regulation Chief of Staff Belinda Miller --- that failed to receive support from Scott.

Putnam, speaking by phone, said from the Cabinet's standpoint, Altmaier, 34, is "from this moment" in charge.

"I think that it's important that David know from day one we are supporting him," Putnam said. "This is not an apprenticeship. He's in the bigs. He's got the chair. He's got the responsibility and he's got our support in that responsibility moving forward."

Altmaier, who since March 2015 has overseen the agency's Bureau of Property and Casualty Financial Oversight and Product Review, said he is aware of the "magnitude of the position" and he had no problem with two additional months working with McCarty.

"I have learned an incredible amount from Commission McCarty during my tenure working with him, and I would welcome 60 more days of learning from him as we transition," Altmaier said.

Altmaier, who received a degree in mathematics from Western Kentucky University, briefly worked as a high school teacher before going to work for a private insurance agency in 2006. He joined the state Office of Insurance Regulation in 2008, where he's served in a number of positions, including as a reinsurance and financial specialist and as chief analyst.

Because of the lingering impasse, Scott on Tuesday proposed the Cabinet interview Altmaier and Rich Robleto, also a deputy commissioner with the Office of Insurance Regulation. At the request of Atwater, the Cabinet on Friday also interviewed Eric Johnson, the office's chief actuary.

During his interview Altmaier stressed a desire to put consumers at the center of decisions and expressed support for the existing senior management team at the office.

The Cabinet decisions appeared to bring relief to people involved in the insurance industry.

"I'm pleased Commissioner McCarty will stay on to help guide David Altmaier, clearly the best acceptable choice to bring this to a landing," Chip Merlin, an attorney who represents property owners in insurance disputes, said in a statement. "It's a relief to see this promotion go to someone with hands-on experience in Florida."

An emphasis was placed on finding a new commissioner prior to the start of the 2016 hurricane season. But the job, which oversees an office of about 260 employees, deals with a wide range of issues involving property insurance, auto insurance, health insurance, life insurance, flood insurance and workers-compensation insurance.

For example, the Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that a state law limiting attorney's fees in workers-compensation insurance cases is unconstitutional. That is expected to force the Office of Insurance Regulation and lawmakers to grapple with changes.

The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America and the Personal Insurance Federation of Florida, a pair of industry groups, said in separate releases they look forward to working with Altmaier.

"PCI (the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America) has worked closely with Commissioner Kevin McCarty since 2003 and we applaud his recent efforts to restore a competitive and healthy insurance marketplace for homeowners, motorists, and business owners," PCI spokesman Logan McFaddin in a prepared statement. "Moving forward we will work with Commissioner Altmaier to combat fraud in Florida and protect hard working citizens from those trying to take advantage of the system."

Before Friday, Scott had backed appointing Palm Harbor resident Jeffrey Bragg, a former executive director of a federal terrorism-risk insurance program. Atwater had supported Hager, who works as an expert witness in insurance cases and formerly served as the Iowa insurance commissioner.

When Atwater again put up Hager for the job on Friday Scott, speaking by phone, wouldn't support the motion. Atwater next proposed Miller, the current chief of staff at the Office of Insurance Regulation.

Scott said Miller would be an asset in the transition of the office but did not back Atwater's proposal to appoint her as commissioner.

Atwater finally recommended appointing Altmaier and for McCarty to remain for 60 days.

McCarty planned to leave the job May 2, but he recently proposed a 45-day extension because of the delays in finding a replacement. Scott initially balked at an extension before going along Friday with the additional 60 days.

After the Cabinet vote, McCarty issued a statement praising Altmaier.

"Florida's insurance consumers will be in good hands under David's thoughtful and patient leadership and he will have the benefit of an exceptional team of individuals to assist him," McCarty said.

The News Service of Florida's Jim Turner contributed to this report.


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