Protesters picket Passidomo's foreclosure bill

Ben Wolford/Staff 
 Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, told a group of protesters from across the state that he believed their presence was the reason Naples Rep. Kathleen Passidomo's foreclosure bill did not reach a committee agenda Thursday. 
  
 Someone erected an Occupy tent on the fourth floor of the Florida Capitol during a protest of Naples Rep. Kathleen Passidomo's bill to speed up the foreclosure process.

Photo by BEN WOLFORD, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Ben Wolford/Staff Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, told a group of protesters from across the state that he believed their presence was the reason Naples Rep. Kathleen Passidomo's foreclosure bill did not reach a committee agenda Thursday. Someone erected an Occupy tent on the fourth floor of the Florida Capitol during a protest of Naples Rep. Kathleen Passidomo's bill to speed up the foreclosure process.

TALLAHASSEE — A few dozen Floridians from around the state converged in the Capitol Thursday for one reason: homeowner rights.

All of them were angry about House Bill 213, which they say weakens the rights of foreclosure defendants. The bill is sponsored by Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, and Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota.

Two bus loads of protesters brought signs and left them leaning against a wall outside the room where the House Judiciary Committee discussed other bills — but not HB 213, something Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, said was the result of public outcry.

“It is my belief that heavy pressure from the public has caused this bill to go back to the drawing board,” Soto told reporters following a press conference he held in opposition to the bill.

Passidomo refuted that claim, saying “it’s absolutely and utterly wrong.” The legislation did not reach the committee, she said, because negotiations over the Senate companion bill’s language were incomplete.

“I’ve been taking comments since August and making changes,” Passidomo said.

Passidomo’s legislation seeks to hasten stalled foreclosure proceedings, which she says are clogging court dockets and preventing those houses from again reaching the market. Foreclosures in Florida take 676 days, more than twice the national average, legislative staff reported.

The bill would streamline the process, reducing the number of judicial hearings from two to one.

It also allows any lien holder to request that a judge order a homeowner to rebut a foreclosure action. The judge may review the request in his or her chamber without a hearing.

“In 2010 we funded $10 million to the foreclosure courts, which got rid of 40 percent of the backlog in that year,” Soto said. “I believe it is a question of resources. And in a $69.2 billion budget, we should be able to find $10 million to help resolve this crisis.”

Criticisms from Democrats and consumer rights advocates arose at its last committee stop, and legislators altered at least one of the bill’s provisions. They agreed to raise the burden of proof for the plaintiff from “a preponderance of evidence” to the stronger legal standard “clear and convincing.”

But Passidomo stands by many other portions. She said many of the qualms she hears from constituents are about current Florida statutes.

“They say, ‘You’re taking away our constitutional right,’” she said. “First of all it’s a contractual right, which we are not taking away at all. We’re letting the courts decide. I don’t know what I’m missing here.”

Protesting continued up and down the normally quiet hallways of the Capitol. Someone erected a tent marked “Occupy,” on the fourth floor of the Capitol building. Members of the Occupy movement organized much of the demonstrating Thursday.

“I’m 62, and I’m homeless,” said Marie Ogilus of Miami Gardens, who has family in Naples. “Foreclosed after 30 years.”

The stories of other frustrated homeowners were a collage of the housing crisis.

They lamented the devaluation of their properties and described their battles with the banks. They say the banks are the reason foreclosures are grinding through the courts.

“I have a property that I’m losing money on,” said Donna Tovin, 53, who came up from West Palm Beach. “It’s affecting my relationships, my marriage.”

Most of the protesters had been on a bus overnight. About 24 of them in a narrow hallway made sure lawmakers leaving the Judiciary Committee meeting could hear them.

“Representatives who support HB 213, shame on you,” They chanted in a call-and-answer. “Oppose this bill. Protect Floridians.”

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