Foreclosure bill meets critics in the Senate

Feb 20, 2012

Monday’s meeting of the Florida Senate Judiciary Committee began peacefully enough.  But Tom Flanigan reports things quickly turned tense when members began debating a bill that would change the state’s laws governing foreclosure.

Along with Nevada, Florida has been America’s foreclosure headquarters for the past four years.  There are still nearly three-hundred seventy thousand foreclosure cases inching their way through the state’s courts.  The average time to settle a foreclosure case is about two years.  So State senators in the Judiciary Committee took up a bill that sponsor, St. Petersburg Republican Jack Latvala said, could help untangle a terrible mess.

“There are some protections in here that hopefully would curb some of the problems that we’ve experienced in regard to people trying to foreclose on homes that they don’t really have the note on.”

But even before the committee meeting, consumer groups and several others said they’d speak against the bill.  The major objection, that homeowners would be denied due process and that the measure was weighted in favor of those doing the foreclosing.  To defuse the opposition, Latvala turned the bill explanation over to Republican State Representative Greg Steube of Sarasota.

“Some of the concerns that had come to me and I’m sure that you have heard in regards to this bill has been as it’s related to due process, the discovery issue and the defenses and I want to make it very clear that this strike all allows for any defendant in the process to file any answer or defenses they feel is necessary in the defense of their case.”

Just to be clear, a “strike-all” is what happens when the original wording of a bill is essentially tossed out and the text replaced with new wording.   But that did little to reassure those speaking against the bill.  Such as Alice Vickers with the Florida Consumer Action Network.

“It’s a complete erosion of current law as it has been since the beginning of real property law.  You cannot get adequate with money damages.  You are entitled to the return of your property if it has been incorrectly taken from you.”

Eatonville Pastor the Reverend Charlie Bank used a biblical reference urging compassion for those losing their homes through foreclosure:

“Don’t be like those that passed by the wounded man on the Jericho Road.   These people are wounded and they need help and we can help them.”

Ron Gillis, who said he was speaking only for himself, went after the bill’s supporters, which drew a rebuke from Committee Chair Anitere Flores.

Gillis:  “I’m sorry, but I think you’re a disgrace.”

Chair Flores: “Try and be respectful, please.”

Gillis: “I’m sorry.  I think they’re a disgrace…."

Flores: “I know, but we need to keep order.”

Gillis:  “But wait a minute because they’re making comments about stuff…they haven’t made an oath to the people, not the banksters.”

After much more public testimony and considerable member debate, Senator Latvala promised to take all the input, good and bad, into account.

“I promise you that over the next week before we see Senator Richter’s committee that I will work diligently to learn more about this and try to alleviate some of the issues.”

The committee then passed the Latvala bill.   At the moment, there’s no companion bill in the House.  However, that would not stop that chamber from taking up and passing the Senate bill after it works its way through the process.