Sunshine State News Blogs

Gov. Rick Scott announced on Friday that almost 15,000 jobs were added in Florida last month, lowering the state unemployment rate from 5.7 percent in January to 5.6 percent in February.

"Today’s announcement of more than 807,000 new private-sector jobs since December 2010 is great news for Florida families,” Scott said on Friday. “More than 14,000 jobs were created during the month of February alone, and more opportunities are becoming available for families each month. We know that a great job helps dreams come true in our state, and we will keep working to make Florida the best place in the world for families to succeed.”

“February was another strong month for Florida’s continually improving economy, with nearly 15,000 new private-sector jobs, growth in the labor force, steadily falling unemployment, and record job demand,” said state Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Jesse Panuccio. “These positive trends are evidence that Gov. Scott’s policies have spurred economic growth in the Sunshine State.”

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The Florida Hispanic Legislative Caucus named its leaders for the next two years on Thursday.

State Rep. Jeanette Nuñez, R-Miami, was chosen to serve as chair while Sen. Darren Soto, D-Kissimmee, is the vice chair.

“I’m honored by the confidence my colleagues expressed by electing me chair,” Nuñez said on Thursday. “I’d also like to thank Sen. Rene Garcia for the leadership he provided as chair of the caucus over the past two years. I’m looking forward to continuing his efforts to promote issues important to Hispanics and to continue focusing on the furtherance of opportunities for our Hispanic constituents.”

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Democrats keep hopping on U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy‘s, D-Fla., bandwagon as he runs for the U.S. Senate in 2016. U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., announced on Thursday he was backing Murphy.

“I am truly honored to endorse my good friend Patrick Murphy for the United States Senate,” Hastings said. "He has fought for the Democratic principles that we hold dear in Florida -- fairness, equality, and opportunity for every person in this state. Whether he is working to ensure all Floridians can exercise their right to vote, or doing all that he can to help the middle class by fighting to raise the minimum wage, Patrick is the right candidate and what Florida needs to move our state and this nation in the right direction. I stand ready to do all that I can to get Patrick Murphy elected as our next United States senator.”

U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., is also considering running for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 Senate race.

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With the U.S. Army planning to try Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl for desertion. U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., who served in the Navy, was a military prosecutor and currently chairs the U.S. House National Security Subcommittee, slammed the Obama administration negotiating to release him in exchange for five captured terrorists.

"President Obama's release of five seasoned Taliban terrorists harmed the national security of the United States,” DeSantis said on Wednesay. “The Obama administration deceptively lionized the service record of Bowe Bergdahl as a way to distract from the gravity of releasing such hardened terrorists, and it was the outcry from Bergdahl's unit members that demonstrated the problems with the Obama narrative. Deserting during wartime is an extremely serious offense and Bergdahl's conduct needs to be judged at a court-martial."

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U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., was honored by the U.S. Travel Association on Wednesday with its “Distinguished Travel Champion Award." Bilirakis was joined by U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Prtitzker; U.S. Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.; U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; and U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill.

"These 'Travel Champions' have helped make travel one of the most dynamic sectors of the U.S. economy," said Roger Dow, the president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association. "The U.S. officials recognized today have a proven track record of advancing policies that help make travel a major job creator and a driver of enhanced economic opportunity in communities all across the United States. We are privileged to honor Sec. Pritzker, Sens. Thune and Klobuchar and Reps. Bilirakis and Quigley, and we hope other political leaders will take their cue in promoting increased travel by enacting supportive policies in the coming year."

The association praised the Florida congressman as follows:

“Rep. Bilirakis hit the ground running as co-chair of the Congressional Travel and Tourism Caucus by successfully shepherding the Travel Promotion, Enhancement, and Modernization Act of 2014 -- Brand USA reauthorization -- through the House of Representatives. He continues to be a tireless champion of America's travel industry.”

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As Americans gets ready to file their taxes next month, two Florida congressional Republicans brought out a bill this week to protect their security if they file online.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., introduced legislation on Tuesday forcing the Treasury Department to add tougher security measures, including security questions, for Americans who file their taxes online. Both Rubio and Yoho noted that Florida has been facing more identity threat problems than other states.

“One of the biggest problems that constituents turn to our office for help with is electronic identity theft that results from filing taxes online,” said Rubio. “The criminals behind this problem are stealing both people’s money and their time. Florida is where the electronic identity theft problem is most severe, and we believe the Treasury Department and IRS need to step up their game in cracking down on this problem by prioritizing resources to combat the growing trend of electronic identity theft.”

“With tax season upon us, the problem of identity theft is serious and growing. The fact that this affects an increasing number of Floridians is unacceptable,” said Yoho. “I am happy to join Sen. Rubio in pressing the Treasury Department and IRS to solve this problem. The bill we have introduced today is a common-sense solution that will protect hard-working American taxpayers from faceless cyber criminals, as well as save them billions of dollars.”

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On Tuesday night, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., joined U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., on the Senate floor to make a joint speech calling for more defense spending. Excerpts from Rubio’s speech are below:

“Let me begin by saying that I believe defense spending is the most important obligation of the federal government. That doesn’t mean we throw money away, or we put money in places where it doesn’t belong or we fund projects that have no utility. But it does mean that the most important thing the federal government does for America is defend it. And we have benefited from the fact that for the last hundred years, America has had the most powerful military force on the planet. This is especially true since the end of the Second World War. There have been times in our history when we’ve tried to save money by cutting back on defense spending, and each and every time has forced us to come back later and spend more to make up for it. Interesting to point out that in times in the past we’ve taken what they call a peace dividend – in essence, this idea that the world is no longer unstable or unsafe, and we can now spend less on defense – each and every time, we’ve had to come back and make up for it later as a new threat emerged. I don’t think we can make the argument that this is a time when the world is stable or peaceful, and yet this is a time of dramatic reductions of defense spending. During this administration, first came defense cuts of over $480 billion over 10 years. Adding insult to injury, by the way, was that the savings that were found in the defense budget were redirected to our already bloated domestic programs.

“This is the worst possible time to be reducing our defense spending and yet that is what we are doing, and we are setting ourselves up for danger. I would recognize that people who have worked hard on this budget have tried to find new ways to address this through contingency funding. I respect the work they’ve done. And ultimately, that may be where we wind up. But before we do, it is important for this body to have a serious debate about how we are underfunding defense spending in this country and the dangers it poses for our future. And that is the purpose of this amendment. The purpose of this amendment is to replace the defense numbers in this budget with the projected Fiscal Year 2016 number from the Fiscal Year 12 Gates budget. This was the last defense budget, the Gates budget, that was put together solely on the assessment of the threats we face and the requisite military needs to deal with it. It is the budget that the bipartisan, congressionally mandated National Defense Panel stated was the minimum required to reverse course and set the military on more stable footing.

“When we talk about modernization, we are not talking about the commander in chief today. When we decide how much money we’re going to spend on modernizing our military capabilities, what we’re deciding is what are the technologies and tools that are going to be available to a future commander in chief in five, 10 or 15 years. These innovative systems that we use today, that have cut down on civilian casualties, that have allowed us to improve our targeting, our intelligence-gathering capabilities, that have made the United States the premier fighting force in all of human history – all of those things were developed a decade ago or longer through years of experimentation and testing, through innovation. So if we cut back on that now, in 10 years a future commander in chief will be faced with a threat to our national security, and we will not have the latest, greatest technology on the planet to address it.

“I promise you, a world where America is no longer the most capable fighting force on the planet is a world that is more chaotic and less safe. So I look forward to having a debate on this and I encourage my colleagues to rally around these numbers.

“The strategy should not be driven by the defense spending. The defense spending should be driven by the strategy. In essence, to put it succinctly, we should not have a strategy that’s based on limited resources: ‘We’re going to have to do the best we can with limited resources.’ We should first outline a strategy: ‘This is what the strategy should be for the future of our country to keep it safe.’ And then we should fund that strategy. Not the other way around. And that is not what we’re doing now. And we’re setting a dangerous precedent. And more importantly, we are putting at risk the national security of this country. And once you’ve made that decision, it is very difficult to reverse in a timely way. We have learned this lesson the hard way, multiple times in our history. I hope we don’t have to learn it again.”

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Former Gov. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., announced on Wednesday he was backing U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., in the 2016 U.S. Senate race. Crist had thrown the door open to running but, last week, said he would not make a third try for the Senate. Murphy entered the contest on Monday.

"Congressman Murphy will bring refreshing energy, integrity, and work ethic to the United States Senate," said Crist. "He knows it's all about the people -- that's why I know Floridians will join me in volunteering for and supporting Patrick early."

Despite Crist having spent most of his political career as a Republican before leaving the GOP to run for the Senate with no party affiliation in 2010, prior to joining the Democrats in late 2012, Murphy called Crist a “loyal Democrat” and welcomed his support.

"Gov. Crist is a champion for the middle class, a loyal Democrat, and a close friend,” Murphy said. “I am so grateful to him for his early support of this campaign, and look forward to continue working with him in the weeks and months ahead to fight for all Floridians in the United States Senate."

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The Florida Credit Union Association (FCUA), part of the League of Southeastern Credit Unions and Affiliates (LSCU), named House Speaker Steve Crisafullim R-Merrit Island, as its legislator of the year for 2014.

“Today, we recognize Speaker Crisafulli as our 2014 Lawmaker of the Year and thank him for his support of the Florida Credit Union Association,” said Patrick La Pine, the president and CEO of the LSCU. “Speaker Crisafulli recognizes the importance of credit unions and has been a longtime friend to the industry. His dedication and leadership in the Florida House of Representatives is much appreciated by all of our members, as well as credit union customers across the state.”

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U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., a leading congressional voice on international affairs, rang the warning bell on Monday as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visits Cuba, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Colombia later this week.

"It is not surprising that the autocratic Russian regime is working to strengthen ties with Ortega’s Nicaragua, Castro’s Cuba, and other Latin American nations,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “This supposed goodwill tour is nothing more than a play for more influence in our region. From Russia docking a spy ship in Havana's harbor to an increase of military assistance in Nicaragua, Russia's activities in our region undermine our national security. We must continue to monitor and counter Russian activities in Latin America to ensure that these diplomatic visits are not a cover for more nefarious activities.”

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US. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., took aim at President Barack Obama’s federal health-care law on Monday, the fifth anniversary of the law.

“Today marks the five-year anniversary of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA or Obamacare) becoming law,” Yoho said. “This hastily written, partisan piece of legislation was shoved through Congress and was forced on the American people. Since then we have seen countless delays, higher premiums, increased government regulations, and the raiding of Medicare to pay for this new system.

“Just days before the bill was passed, House Speaker Pelosi famously told America that Democrats had to pass Obamacare to find out what was in it,” Yoho continued. “Words you don’t want to hear when talking about an issue that affects your family, the country’s health-care system, and a large part of the U.S. economy. In addition to this, we were sold the idea that we could keep our plans if we liked them. What did we receive instead? Cancellation notices from insurance providers.

“While I agree we need to reform the nation’s health system, and find ways to provide coverage options for the uninsured, this piece of legislation was not the way to address the issue. A patient-centered health-care system that is market driven is best suited for the American people,” Yoho added. “I believe we should allow insurance to be portable and able to be purchased across state lines. We must also address tort reform and the drivers of the high cost of health care. And lastly we need to provide the incentive for all Americans to save for future health-care costs by eliminating high-deductible insurance policies and expand access to health savings accounts.

“Since the passage of Obamacare, American families and small businesses have been feeling the weight of this ill-conceived law,” Yoho concluded. “It is time that we replace it with a common-sense approach that takes big government out of health-care decisions that should be made by patients, families, and their doctors.”

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Pointing out Ayatollah Khamenei said “Death to America” this weekend, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., mocked U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s claim that “substantial progress” was being made in talks with Iran.

"The U.S. should stand strong against any regime that calls for death to America," Buchanan said on Monday. "It's time to let the world know that America is serious about protecting its interests and its allies."

Buchanan pounded the Obama administration’s continued negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

"Accepting any agreement that leaves the door open to Iran's continued pursuit of a nuclear weapon should be a nonstarter," Buchanan said. "No deal is better than a bad deal."

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The Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) went after U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., on Monday after he announced he was running for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. The RPOF looked to link Murphy to President Barack Obama’s federal health-care law.

“The RPOF warmly welcomes liberal-insider Patrick Murphy into the race for the U.S. Senate,” said state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, the chairman of the RPOF, on Monday . “We also applaud him for the impeccable timing of this announcement, as it comes on the same day as the five-year anniversary of Obamacare.” 

“And, while he’ll undoubtedly try and continue to run away from his record of overwhelming support for Obamacare and voters can expect to hear him parrot Republican talking points on TV and in ads, his votes and track record can speak for themselves,” Ingoglia added. “We look forward to voters getting to know the real Patrick Murphy, who supports Obamacare, runs with the standard bearers of the Democratic Party and puts D.C, interests ahead of his constituents.”

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U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., part of the GOP leadership as senior deputy majority whip, announced on Monday he had been named to the bipartisan task force to investigate terrorism financing. U.S. Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Financial Services, named Ross, who serves on that committee, to the task force.

“Radical terrorist organizations like the Islamic State have numerous financial resources that have perpetuated their use of terror and rise in power in unstable regions of the Middle East," said Ross. "Our goal is to choke off funding to these groups who wish to do harm to Americans and our allies abroad. I want to thank Chairman Hensarling for appointing me to this newly formed task force. I look forward to working with my colleagues to improve our nation’s security and prevent terrorist organizations from acquiring funds to continue their reign of terror.”

“We are committed to making sure our government is doing everything possible to stop the Islamic State and other terrorists from using the global financial system to finance their acts of evil,” said Hensarling. “Fighting the financial war against terror demands constant innovation and vigilance. The task force to investigate terrorist financing will examine what, if any, changes are needed to upgrade and improve our nation’s ability to starve terrorists of the money they need to carry out their attacks.”

U.S. Rep. Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., will lead the task force and he offered his take on its role on Monday

“As the United States pushes back against the tide of terror and extremism that is the enemy of freedom and peace everywhere, it must do so with every tool available – including within the financial system," said Fitzpatrick. “It is my hope that this new task force will encourage and produce true bipartisan measures to devastate and disrupt the ability of terror groups to finance and fund their warped ideologies.”

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U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., weighed in on Wednesday on Republican budget proposals. While he had some praise for the proposals, Rubio cautioned that they did not include enough for national defense.

“America’s budget priorities should be to fully and decisively provide for our national defense, help revive economic growth and protect hard-working taxpayers, preserve entitlement programs for retirees and save them for future generations, and stop Washington’s massive borrowing binge so that it entirely stops spending more money than we take in within 10 years,” Rubio said. “A budget should do all of this without increasing taxes on the American people. The budgets introduced in the Senate and House have some positive ideas, and I’m hopeful the debate ahead will provide opportunities for improvements.

“One major concern I have at this point is that the Senate budget as introduced fails to prioritize our national defense after years of damaging cuts to our nation’s military,” Rubio added. “The world is increasingly dangerous and the threats against America, our allies and our interests require a military appropriately resourced to address these challenges. It is also part of our sacred obligation to our men and women in uniform who deserve the best training and most advanced equipment to carry out their missions. I am working with my colleagues to address this issue during the budget debate.”

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Over at “The Run,” his always excellent coverage of the 2016 presidential race for U.S. News and World Report, David Catanese looks at the early tensions between former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., and Gov. Scott Walker, R-Wis., in the early stages of the Republican nomination contest.

It’s an interesting look at the two Republicans currently leading the 2016 pack. Bush’s camp sees Walker as flip-flopper who just isn’t ready for a national campaign. Walker’s team thinks Bush is yesterday’s news.


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U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a potential Republican presidential candidate in 2016, came out swinging at President Barack Obama’s “Net neutrality” plan to regulate the Internet. Rubio wrote an op-ed that appeared at Politico on Wednesday:

The Federal Communications Commission’s recent 332-page plan to regulate the Internet is being sold as “net neutrality,” which is an existing concept predicated on preventing Internet service providers from creating “fast lanes” and “slow lanes” for different content. But there are several significant problems.

First, while the FCC plan supposedly seeks to prevent ISPs from playing favorites, it does so by giving that power to another entity: government. This is illogical, particularly because the federal government is adept at rigging the economy in favor of powerful interests. The answer to correcting injustice in an economy is to increase consumer power, not government power.

Second, the issue of ISPs creating different speed lanes is not the injustice that it is made out to be. There are hardly any cases of it to begin with, and any deals that do take place are just as likely to benefit consumers by allowing highly trafficked sites to accommodate their visitors. This is why FCC Commissioner Ajit Pai, who voted against the plan, called it “a solution that won’t work to a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Third, the primary function of the FCC’s plan goes far beyond the goal of net neutrality. It would use Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 to label Internet service providers as public utilities. As Commissioner Michael O’Rielly wrote, “Net neutrality is now the pretext for deploying Title II to a far greater extent than anyone could have imagined just months ago.”

By labeling ISPs as public utilities, an extraordinary amount of power over the Internet, including case-by-case discretion, would be given to an unelected, unaccountable board that every lobbyist, lawyer and crony capitalist with a vested interest in the Internet will seek to manipulate.

Many foreign governments are watching these moves closely as they pursue their goal of greater international control over the Internet. The move won’t turn America into China or Cuba when it comes to government control over our online lives, but it will give federal bureaucrats a foot in the door to start unseating market forces. And never once has the government gotten a foot in the door of any industry and been satisfied to stop pushing its way in.

While our leaders can’t be bothered to fix the many institutions in America that are actually broken, they are eager to “fix” the one thing in America that works the best. With friends like government, the Internet needs no enemies.

Throughout this debate, Americans have been given a false choice: Either you are for the FCC’s plan, or you are for a lawless Internet. This represents a cynical view of free markets and a misunderstanding of government’s role in protecting them. I believe government’s role is not to regulate the actions of a few, but rather to empower all.

The whole piece can be read here.

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Former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., who increasingly appears to be running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, cheered the news that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prevailed in Tuesday’s elections.

“Congratulations to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on his re-election,” Bush posted on Facebook on Wednesday. “He’s a true leader who will continue to keep Israel strong and secure.”

Bush is not the only potential Republican presidential candidate to cheer the news.

"Congratulations to my friend, Prime Minister Netanyahu, on his re-election,” said former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, R-Pa., on Wednesday. “The prime minister has been a true friend to the United States and I join millions of my fellow Americans in congratulating this man of courage, candor, and strength. In times like these, the world needs leaders who will stand up to the evil of radical Islam. Prime Minister Netanyahu is such a leader. It is my great hope that our next president will be able to stand side-by-side with Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu, as past presidents have and as we need if we hope to defeat this radical Islamist enemy and ensure Iran never develops a nuclear weapon."

"Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coming out on top proves that not even Obama's team could do the magic when Israelis know their existence is on the line,” said former Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., on Wednesday. “Netanyahu is a Churchill in a world full of Chamberlains and I applaud his victory today and hope that it will result in the formation of a strong government. As an American, I am embarrassed that the Obama administration trusts Iran yet undermines and undercuts Israel. The polls have closed, the people have spoken and it is time for the U.S. government to stand with Israel once again."

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U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., called out President Barack Obama’s executive action on immigration on Tuesday and backed U.S. Rep. Randy Weber’s, R-Texas, “Deny Amnesty Credits Act of 2015." The proposal would ensure illegals with deferred status under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA) won’t receive the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC).

“The president was a constitutional law professor for 12 years,” Yoho said on Tuesday. “It is unfortunate and somewhat amazing to me that he continues to walk all over the very document he taught students by side-stepping Congress and the American people.

“I am and always will be a proponent of legal immigration,” Yoho added. “Those who are here illegally should not be rewarded for their actions with tax credits – roughly $35,000 – and access to Social Security numbers. According to the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), his executive amnesty could cost American taxpayers $10.2 billion. Last time I checked, Congress holds the power of the purse, not the president.

“The president’s executive amnesty is misguided and unconstitutional,” Yoho concluded. “I am committed to doing all I can to stop his actions. The bill I am supporting is just one step in making sure we hold this Obama administration accountable. It is unacceptable that his executive overreach will put the American taxpayer on the hook for billions of dollars of their hard-earned money -- especially at a time when many of them are struggling to pay their own bills and taxes.”

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A bill to limit repetitive testing and push up school start dates was rolled over for a third and final reading on Tuesday.

HB 7069 tackles a number of pressing issues in the state's education system, including scaling back testing in public schools. Teacher evaluations would also be impacted as a result of the legislation -- student performance on assessment tests would also be scaled back in evaluating teacher progress as a result of the legislation.

One of the bill's amendments in particular drew a great deal of support from educators statewide. The amendment, proposed by Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, would have put a temporary pause on school grades for a year to allow schools, teachers and students adequate time to adjust to the state's new assessment test.

Under Jones' amendment, results from this year's test would be used as a baseline for further school grades, but the proposal ran into trouble last week during the House Education Committee and it was rejected by the committee.

The full House didn't end up being friendly to the amendment either -- it failed by a vote of 36-80.

The bill heads to the House floor at 10 a.m. Wednesday. 

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On Tuesday. Gov. Rick Scott announced Florida has had 801,100 new private-sector jobs created during his time in Tallahassee.

In January 2015, the state unemployment rate stood at 5,7 percent. During Scott's 2010 bid for governor, he promised 700,000 new jobs over a seven-year period though Democrats insisted he claimed it would be 1.7 million new jobs in their unsuccessful effort to deny him a second term last year.

“We are excited to announce that Florida businesses added more than 800,000 private-sector jobs since December 2010,” Scott said on Tuesday. “Florida’s exceptional economic turnaround makes it clear that we are enacting policies to help businesses grow and giving families opportunities to achieve their dreams in Florida. We will keep working to cut taxes and make Florida the global destination for jobs. I also look forward to traveling to California next month to tell shippers that Florida is the best place for business and why they should move here.”

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U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the chairwoman of the U.S. House Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, tore into President Barack Obama’s policies in regard to Iran and Cuba even as Roberta Jacobson, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs. leads a delegation to Cuba this week.

“As Assistant Secretary Jacobson continues the administration’s misguided efforts to re-establish diplomatic ties with the Castro regime in Havana this week, President Obama continues his push to treat Iran as if it were not on the State Sponsors of Terrorism list,” Ros-Lehtinen said on Monday. “Not only do both countries merit staying on the list, but removing them would also undermine the viability and intent of the terrorist designations that would have serious repercussions for U.S. national security.

“The parallels between the administration’s Cuba and Iran policies are clear: the president is making political moves in order to advance his agenda, but not based on any real assessment of actual threats, and has been using Cuba as the test case for normalizing relations with Iran,” Ros-Lehtinen added. “In fact, last month the director of national intelligence released the intel community’s worldwide threat assessment while conveniently never once tying Iran to terrorism nor mentioning Hezbollah, a designated foreign terrorist organization.

“The president cannot continue to play games with the national security of our country in the interest of forging his foreign policy legacy,” Ros-Lehtinen concluded. “The sad reality is that by continuing to pursue these avenues of engagement and concessions, he is putting the U.S. and the world at greater risk.”

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U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., one of the leading Republican voices on international affairs, issued a warning on Saturday after the Venezuelan National Assembly granted more power to Nicolas Maduro.

“By making another power grab through decree, Maduro is attempting to distract away from the reality that it is his own disastrous policies that have caused Venezuela’s economy to spiral out of control,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “This is all smoke and mirrors from Maduro, arguing he needs these decree powers to counter the sanctions that the Obama administration just levied against members of his corrupt regime. The truth is the sanctions imposed by the U.S. did not impact the people of Venezuela nor the economy, but rather targeted specific human rights violators within the regime – but these thugs never let the truth stand in the way of a good story.

“This trick of blaming the U.S. for the Venezuelan regime’s own failures is straight from the playbook of Maduro’s handlers in Havana, but no one should be fooled by this charade and his desperate attempts to cling on to power by any means,” Ros-Lehtinen added. “Responsible nations in the hemisphere must not remain silent as this renewed power grab takes place, for the sake of Venezuelans and their fundamental freedoms.”

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Fox Business Network (FBN) is bringing on Blake Burman from WSVN, the Fox affiliate in Miami, as Washington correspondent. Burman replaces Rich Edson who is moving over to Fox News Channel.

Burman is a veteran of Florida journalism. Before his time at WSVN, Burman was in WBBH in Fort Myers. He starts his new assignment on April 6. 

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Eliana Johnson over at National Review has an article on Thursday noting how U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is starting to turn some heads as he gears up for a 2016 presidential campaign.

Johnson writes:

Jeb Bush’s announcement in December launched both a fundraising juggernaut and an aggressive hiring spree, and Scott Walker’s speech in Iowa the following month lifted Walker to the top of national polls. But a little more than a month later, says the operative, “The Jeb boom is over and people are having second thoughts about Walker.”

The beneficiary in terms of buzz is Marco Rubio, who now has many of the party’s top donors looking at him in a way they weren’t even a month ago. Though Rubio hasn’t made as much noise as his competitors as the 2016 campaign has gotten underway in earnest, his knowledgeable presentations and obvious political talent are nonetheless turning heads or, at least, enough of them. Rubio hasn’t made a big splash, neither building a “shock and awe” campaign like Bush nor delivering a marquee speech like Walker (who afterward seemed almost to be caught off guard by his rapid ascent). Instead, Rubio appears to be gambling on the idea that, in what is sure to be a long primary with a crowded field, a slow-and-steady approach will prevail.

The buzz about Rubio comes on the heels of a successful but nonetheless low-profile book tour that took him through the early-primary states of Iowa, South Carolina, Nevada, and New Hampshire, and as the frenetic motion around Bush and Walker has begun to subside.

Bush’s announcement left many conservatives searching for an alternative to the establishment candidate, and Walker has at times looked like he could fill that space. But he has stumbled a couple of times before the press and displayed some shakiness on policy issues.

The article can be read here.

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Florida CFO Jeff Atwater showcased recent efforts to improve the state government’s financial software on Wednesday. Atwater praised the Planning, Accounting, and Ledger Management (PALM) efforts and noted how long the state had been using the FLAIR program.

“Florida’s accounting and financial management system that balances the state’s checkbook, pays all the bills, and processes payroll for the state’s employees debuted in 1981,” Atwater noted on Wednesday evening. “This is also the year MTV debuted, the year the Oldsmobile Cutlass was the number one selling car, and a year before the World Wide Web was opened to the public.

“It’s clear that a lot has changed in the last 34 years and it’s critical that our current system, known more commonly as FLAIR, change in order to more efficiently and effectively meet the needs of our state,” Atwater added. “As Florida’s economy continues to grow, leading more people to call Florida home, it has become even more important that our system is able to meet the demands of processing nearly $90 billion worth of payments annually.

“While FLAIR has been patched, updated, and modified many times, these workarounds are becoming increasingly time consuming, more expensive, and leave the state exposed to unnecessary risks,” Atwater continued. “An independent study conducted in 2013 affirmed this assessment and the necessity of replacing FLAIR with an updated resource planning system better suited to grow alongside Florida’s robust economy. In 2014, the Legislature wisely appropriated funds to ensure there are dedicated staff and a solid plan in place to usher in this complex system transition. These efforts, formerly called the FLAIR and CMS Replacement (FCR) Project, have been recently rebranded as Florida PALM. PALM is an acronym for Planning, Accounting, and Ledger Management, which speaks to the broader functionality of our state’s new system.

“Government works the best when it operates as efficiently as possible,” Atwater insisted. “I’m confident transitioning to PALM will allow for improved functionality in the future and I encourage you to follow along as we make this exciting multi-year transition.”

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Florida TaxWatch released a report on Thursday looking at the state government's mental health efforts.

"Mental health problems affect many members of our communities, from children in our elementary schools to retirees in nursing homes, and ensuring individuals are getting the help they need is truly a matter of public safety," said Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, on Thursday. "It is critical that our state's mental health dollars are spent most efficiently to provide care to those who need it most, and our state's Behavioral Health Managing Entities are helping to do that, even with minimal funding."

The report shows, despite being under funded, Florida's Behavioral Health Managing Entities has been efficient. Despite that, Florida TaxWatch called for more funding of mental health services at the state level. The report can be read here.

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U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., offered his take on Tuesday over President Barack Obama’s sanctions on leaders of the Maduro regime earlier in the week. While Curbelo applauded the sanctions, he joined other Republicans from South Florida in calling for harsher penalties.

“Yesterday’s sanctions are a long overdue first step in holding the Maduro regime accountable for its grotesque disrespect for human rights. In recent months, the Maduro regime has continued to use lethal force to control opposition protests, including a 14-year-old student who was shot and killed by police while walking to school in San Cristobal,” Curbelo said on Tuesday. “Additionally, the regime has moved to expel Julio Borges, a moderate opposition leader, from the National Assembly. Leopoldo López, another opposition leader, has been in jail for a year and is now on trial for treason. On Feb. 19, agents of Venezuela’s state security service, without a warrant, stormed the office of the mayor of Caracas and arrested him for conspiracy to commit violent acts against the regime.

“I continue to stand in solidarity with the peaceful, democratic opposition in Venezuela that opposes thuggish rule and proudly stands for liberty,” Curbelo added. “While the administration’s new sanctions are a step forward in our larger effort to hold all repressive regimes accountable, there is still much more to be done to ensure that all those responsible for perpetrating human rights violations in Venezuela are held accountable. I applaud the Venezuelan-American community in the United States that has been instrumental in advocating on behalf of the people of Venezuela and continue to stand in unity for the cause of justice and freedom.”

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The committee responsible for reviewing the top issues in Florida's education system will be meeting via a conference call March 27, sources tell Sunshine State News. 

According to the department's website, the committee is charged with "instructional material review processes used by school boards, identifying strategies to increase parental involvement in education, and reviewing the implementation of the Florida Standards and the Florida Standards Assessment."

The committee will meet from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. 

Additional details are forthcoming.  
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Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., selected three nominees to the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame including former Gov. Reubin Askew, D-Fla. Scott’s office released the following to the media late on Tuesday:

Governor Reubin O’Donovan Askew (1928-2014), formerly of Pensacola, was the 37th Governor of Florida. He was named one of the "Top 50 Floridians of the 20th Century" by the Lakeland Ledger. As Governor, Askew supported school and busing desegregation and fought for fairer legislative representation in urban counties. He appointed the first African-American Justice to the State Supreme Court, the first African-American woman to head a state agency, and the first African-American to hold a cabinet level office in Florida. The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University rated him one of the country’s top ten governors of the 20th century.

Sallye B. Mathis (1912-1982), formerly of Jacksonville, served for 28 years as a teacher in the Duval County Public School System, where she taught elementary school students and history at Matthew Gilbert High School. Mathis was a civil rights activist and a member of the League of Woman Voters. Her commitment to the cause of civil rights led the Jacksonville NAACP chapter to name an annual community service award in her honor. In 1967, she was the first African-American woman elected to the Jacksonville City Council where she fought for reduced bus fares for senior citizens and initiated legislation for a Citizens’ Police Review Board, free public toilets, and equal job opportunities in public agencies. Her service to Jacksonville was commemorated with the naming of the Sallye B. Mathis Elementary School in her honor.

Edward Daniel Davis (1904-1989), formerly of Orlando, was an author, educator, and businessman who was best known for his unyielding civil rights crusades that helped desegregate the University of Florida, raise the salary of African-American teachers, and increase African-American voter registration. In 1942, he was fired as head of Howard Academy in Ocala for leading the Florida State Teachers Association in a legal move to obtain equal pay for black instructors. Additionally, Davis was instrumental in a nine-year fight to open the University of Florida School of Law to minority students. He was the founder of the Florida Voter League, president of the Florida State Teachers Association, and served two terms as president of the Florida State Conference of the NAACP. He received the first ever Governor’s Distinguished Black Floridian Award in 1986.

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