TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) _ A Senate panel on Monday cleared a bill that aims to speed up the state's mortgage foreclosure process, which immediately resulted in jeers from an angry crowd of foreclosure victims.
The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee OK'd the bill (SB 1890) by a 6-4 vote with some crossing of party lines. Republican Sen. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey voted against the measure, for example, and Democratic Sen. Chris Smith of Fort Lauderdale voted for it.
After the vote, foreclosed homeowners from around the state harangued the panel, yelling “we got stonewalled'' and “this Legislature is a sham.'' One woman nearly collapsed into a security officer's arms, saying she thought she was having a panic attack.
“Homeownership is the American dream,'' said Lynn Drysdale, a Jacksonville Area Legal Aid attorney who represents foreclosure clients. Asked to to explain the emotions at Monday's hearing, Drysdale added that “these homeowners feel that their rights are being diminished.''
The part causing the most distress to opponents is a section that provides for a special court hearing that would more easily speed a property into foreclosure.
Committee chair Garrett Richter responded afterward to charges that he was rushing the bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Jack Latvala of St. Petersburg, despite concerns from some foreclosed homeowners that it “trampled'' on their rights.
The bill “will have continued debate on the floor'' of the Senate, the Naples Republican said. “Quite frankly, we've got less than two weeks to go in session and I think this is legislation that this Legislature needs to address and advance.''
But as Sen. Steve Oelrich, a former Alachua County sheriff, earlier told his colleagues, “I don't mind being the sheriff, but I don't want to be the sheriff of Nottingham.''
The bill also has consumer-friendly provisions, including:
_ Shortening to one year the time for a bank to go after any balance owed after the foreclosure sale of an owner-occupied, one-family to four-family dwelling.
_ Heightening requirements of proof that a party trying to foreclose on a property actually owns the mortgage. Banks or other finance companies would have to clearly show how a mortgage was bought and sold, or explain precisely why original documents were lost or destroyed.
_ Requiring that when a mortgage is fully paid off, a written acknowledgement has to be filed in the official county records.
The collapsed real estate market resulted in millions of foreclosures across the country. One recent survey showed Florida has about a quarter of the nation's total foreclosures and 14 percent of home foreclosures.
But authorities have discovered many instances of erroneous and fraudulent filings. Paperwork in many foreclosures was the product of “robo-signers,'' people hired to sign documents in assembly-line fashion, often without knowing what's contained in them.
Such documents included affidavits that a bank actually owned the mortgage on a property being foreclosed when the original paperwork can't be found.
As an Occupy Tallahassee handout circulated before the meeting put it, “Bankers easily swap(ped) mortgages around like baseball cards without preserving the required documentation trail.''
Sen. Don Gaetz, slated to be senate president next year, reminded senators that the bill would affect only those people who are seriously behind in their mortgage payments.
The bill isn't perfect, the Niceville Republican said, but “the perfect should not be the enemy of the good.''
The foreclosure bill will next be debated by the full Senate, with a companion bill moving to the House floor.