An apparent glitch in how the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles tracks and responds to drivers’ insurance coverage once resulted in the suspension of the driver’s license of the state’s current top insurance regulator, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.
Through his staff, Patronis said he was unaware there had been any problems or missed notifications with his auto insurance, or that the department had taken action that led, at least on paper, to his driver’s license being suspended for nearly a year. The news came to him this week when Florida Politics inquired about it.
Patronis’ staff insists what happened was that in 2011 he changed insurance carriers, and the state department apparently was notified of the termination of his previous insurance, but did not receive notice that he replaced it with a policy from a new carrier, GEICO, on April 4, 2011.
The department suspended his license for nine months on July 13, 2011, according to driver records obtained by Florida Politics.
And now the suspension has been wiped from his record.
Patronis said in a written statement that he now is seeking to find out if this was a one-time fluke or a systematic failure that could be leading to on-paper suspensions of other Floridians’ driver’s licenses if they switch insurance carriers.
He called the apparent suspension showing up on his driving record “an erroneous record.”
“I have asked [FDHS&MV] Executive Director [Terry] Rhodes to look into how this erroneous record was generated and to see if this system failure affected other Floridians. There is always room for improvement in state government and it is my expectation that DHSMV will be able to better their system,” Patronis said.
Patronis was appointed to the vacant chief financial officer position on the Florida Cabinet last year and is running for election to a full term this fall. He’ll be going up against Democratic former state Sen. Jeremy Ring in the November election.
The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation falls under the CFO’s department.
His insurance agent apparently got the 2011 driver license suspension wiped off of his driving record on Tuesday, according to other records obtained by Florida Politics. After being notified of the 2011 matter, the agent advised the department on Tuesday that Patronis had been fully insured in 2011 and asked that the driver’s license suspension be removed from his record.
An FDHS&MV official replied by email, “Yes, the FR 7 sanction was generated in 2011 after we received a cancellation of insurance from a different insurance company. Since the sanction is over three years old it has been deleted from Mr. Patronis’ driver record.”
A new copy of the driver record Florida Politics obtained late Tuesday through a record request did not include the suspension.
However, the suspension had appeared in an earlier copy of that driver record obtained elsewhere by Florida Politics.
A portion of that earlier copy had been shared with Patronis’ campaign staff when the staff had asserted Patronis had no knowledge of any insurance lapse or suspended license in 2011.
The shared copy itself is another issue.
It included information that the department normally redacts from copies provided through public records requests, and which was redacted from the copy the department sent to Florida Politics later Tuesday.
Patronis’ campaign raised suspicions that the record had been obtained improperly.
“From what we have been told at this point, it appears that someone stole the CFO’s identity to access his personal driving record through a third-party website and because of the serious nature of identity theft, FDLE has been asked to look into this matter,” Katie Strickland, Patronis’ campaign communications director, stated.
FDLE spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger replied late Wednesday, “FDLE is aware of the situation and we have been in contact with DHSMV and they are addressing the issue.”
The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles issued a statement saying that it relies on information from insurance companies, and is working to improve the process, but concedes that the system is old and “glitches can occur,” which the department tries to correct immediately on being notified by insurance companies that insurance was in place.
The department also insisted that it is “absolutely committed to protecting personal identifying information,” indicating it would not have released the shared record, because it included such information.
“The department has provided you the official driving record, which does not include any sanctions,” said a statement from Deputy Communications Director Alexis Bakofsky. “The department relies on information from insurance companies in order verify motorists have valid insurance; however, the department’s systems are dated and glitches can occur. As soon as we were notified of the error on the record by the customer’s insurance company, the record was immediately corrected. The department has made many improvements to its systems and processes over the past few years and, through DHSMV’s Motorist Modernization initiative, is dedicated to continuing improving systems and services for customers.
“The erroneous sanction should not have ever been a part of the record,” Rhodes said in the statement. “With regards to the record you claim to have received, federal and state law is clear and the department is absolutely committed to protecting customers’ personal identifying information. DHSMV takes this issue very seriously and is taking steps to ensure customer safety and security are maintained.”