House unveils foreclosure package in Tallahassee

Hoping to speed up the rate of foreclosures, a House panel on Thursday approved a measure backers say will allow mortgage holders and consumers to more quickly resolve their issues and get on with their lives.

But the panel got an earful from consumer advocates and homeowners, who contend that they are being asked to do too much to reduce the number of foreclosed homes in Florida, which leads the nation in the percentage of homes facing some type of foreclosure proceeding.

Sponsored by Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, the bill (HB 87) makes changes aimed at shortening the time period involved in a foreclosure proceeding and relaxing restrictions on who can request an expedited procedure and the standards for what can be filed.

Passidomo said the bill is an attempt to remedy a problem that extends far beyond the state and on which the state has limited authority.

"The relationship between the borrower and the lenders …begins way before it reaches a foreclosure proceeding and is something the state does not regulate," Passidomo told members of the committee.

Florida posted the nation’s highest state foreclosure rate in 2012, according to statistics compiled by RealtyTrac. That report found that 3.1 percent of Florida housing units, one in 32, received a foreclosure filing during the year.

The bill, a version of which passed the House last year, raised concerns Thursday from a number of stakeholders including bankers, legal aid organizations and homeowners, who objected to different aspects of the measure that would also significantly reduce the amount of time lenders and lien holders have to challenge a homeowner.

Among its more contentious provisions, the bill would reduce from five years to one the length of time a lender could pursue a claim after a foreclosure action and require lenders to provide more, a provision that Florida Banking Association lobbyist Anthony DiMarco called "draconian."

Homeowner advocates, meanwhile, are skeptical of changes making it easier for a judge to forgo further proceedings if the paperwork is in order.

"The bill appears to diminish the rights of consumers to streamline the process," said Lynn Drysdale, an attorney representing Jacksonville Area Legal Aid.

The bill is expected again to draw considerable attention. On Thursday, representatives from different sections groups of lawyers took opposing sides in the debate, with those who work in consumer law opposing the proposal while a representative of the Bar’s probate section offered his support.

Sen. Jack Latvala, R-St. Petersburg, is expected to file a Senate version. Latvala said Thursday that his proposal would differ from a measure he filed last year but would not elaborate on what changes he will propose this time around.