Sunshine State News Blogs

The U.S. Supreme Court paved the way Friday for same-sex marriages to begin next month in Florida.

The Supreme Court justices said in a ruling released Friday they would let a federal trial judge's decision backing marriage rights to take effect. U.S. District Judge Robert L. Hinkle ruled in August to allow same-sex licenses to start being issued in the state after Jan. 5 unless the Supreme Court intervened.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has fought to uphold the state's ban on same-sex marriage, vowing to defend the state's Constitution.

On Friday, Bondi said the stay would end.

"The Supreme Court has now spoken and the stay will end," she said.

This is a breaking story. Check back for updates.  
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Gov. Rick Scott named Jim Boxold as secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation on Friday. Boxold, currently the chief of staff of the department, will take over on Jan. 3.

“During Jim’s time as chief of staff of the Florida Department of Transportation, we’ve accomplished a lot to meet the transportation needs of Florida families, visitors and businesses,” Scott said. “This year we made an historic investment of over $10 billion for transportation and DOT’s five-year plan will invest nearly $41 billion into our state’s transportation system, thanks to the leadership of Secretary Prasad and Jim. We have also focused on making Florida’s ports a world leader in trade, a goal that we will continue to pursue. Jim will bring passion, energy and experience to our mission of making Florida the premier destination for jobs. I am grateful for Secretary Prasad’s service and I am confident Jim is the best person to carry on his commitment to excellence in improving our state’s infrastructure in the years ahead.”

“It is an absolute honor to be appointed as secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation today,” Boxold said. “Under Governor Scott’s leadership, transportation has been made a top priority to help drive our state’s economic growth and improve the lives of families. We will continue to focus on the governor’s mission to make Florida the best state to live and get a great job.”

Boxold is a familiar figure in Tallahassee. For six years, he worked under then-U.S. Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla., before joining then-Gov. Jeb Bush’s team as deputy director of Cabinet affairs. Boxold served a decade as director of Cabinet affairs for the Florida agriculture commissioner before moving over to his current chief of staff post in July 2013.

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Gov. Rick Scott announced on Friday that the unemployment rate in Florida dropped to 5.8 percent in November, the lowest since May 2008. Back in October, the rate stood at 6 percent. Scott also noted that Florida has seen 715,700 new jobs in the private sector since he took over. During the 2010 campaign, Scott said his economic policies would create 700,000 new jobs over seven years.

“Four years ago, we unveiled an ambitious plan to fix Florida’s economy and turn the state around,” Scott said on Friday. “Our goal was to create 700,000 jobs in seven years. Today our goal was reached three years early, with 715,700 private-sector jobs created in Florida since December 2010. I applaud our job creators across the state who sacrifice and work hard to create new jobs. Every job impacts a family and we will keep working each day to make Florida the world’s No. 1 destination for jobs.”

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Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, filed legislation Thursday that would include domestic violence advocacy organizations and domestic violence referral service organizations in public records exemptions.

HB 125 would create a registry and certification process under the Department of Children and Families for organizations that provide services, but not shelter to victims of domestic violence. 

"This bill promotes protection of domestic violence victims and their children as well as domestic violence advocacy organizations, while encouraging full and forthright communications between victims and their advocates," said Edwards. 

There were roughly 6,000 reported cases of domestic violence in Broward County last year, Edwards said in a press statement. Women in Distress was able to provide services and shelter to 3,164 adults and children last year. Broward 2-1-1 referred 981 calls to domestic violence advocacy organizations and shelters. The No More Tears Project helped 89 victims of domestic violence in 2013.

More and more domestic violence advocacy groups are supplementing the work of traditional shelters by providing housing and services referrals as well as direct assistance to victims and their children, she said. This bill would create uniform standards for organizations providing services for victims of domestic violence that do not currently have a facility. Currently, such organizations do not have the same public records exemptions that domestic violence shelters carry. HB 127 would give these service and referral organizations the same confidentiality protections that domestic violence centers currently possess. Any information released would require the written consent from the client.

Said Dr. Laura Finley, chairwoman of Broward-based No More Tears,"All domestic violence advocates, regardless of the type of service agency in which they operate, must be allowed privileged communications with survivors of abuse. Without this critical protection, advocates may be forced to disclose information about a survivor that will jeopardize his or her safety or that of children in the family.

"Further," said Finley, "failure to include service providers not employed or volunteering for actual shelters has needlessly tied up these advocates in frivolous court proceedings at the expense of the provision of the assistance to survivors. This bill corrects the situation and is essential to helping survivors of domestic violence in Florida."

If signed into law the bill would go into effect July 1, 2015.

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Voters trust the Republican Party a little bit more than the Democratic Party on a larger number of issues, according to a poll released Thursday.

The Rasmussen Reports poll found more likely U.S. voters trust the GOP more on eight of 15 major issues regularly tracked by the pollster -- the economy, national security, Afghanistan, taxes, job creation, government spending, small business and gun control.

Voters trust Democrats more on other issues, however -- like energy, immigration, government ethics and corruption, health care, Social Security, education and the environment.

But  the two parties are nearly tied on four of these issues -- the economy, immigration, government ethics and Social Security -- separated by just 2 points.

The poll of 1,000 likely U.S. voters was conducted Dec. 7-8 by Rasmussen Reports.  
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Christina Daly, who has led the Department of Juvenile Justice on an interim basis since July, will be Gov. Rick Scott’s secretary of the department.

“Christina has provided strong leadership at the Department of Juvenile Justice and shown a commitment to improving the lives of Florida children,” Scott said on Thursday. “We announced this week that youth arrests are at the lowest level in 30 years, and I know she will keep working to increase public safety. Christina has shown a dedication to enriching the lives of every Florida child, and I’m confident she’ll continue to make Florida the best place to raise a family.”

“I’m honored and humbled to be named secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice,” Daly said. “I am committed to continuing our success in decreasing delinquency and increasing safety for every child in Florida. Under Gov. Scott’s leadership, we will continue to work to make Florida the best place to live, work and raise a family.”

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On Tuesday night, the U.S. Senate passed the “Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act,” which U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., has been working on since 2006. The Senate passed the bill -- which creates tax-free savings accounts for disabled Americans for qualified expenses and which moved through the House earlier in the month -- on a 76-16 vote. It now heads to President Barack Obama who is expected to sign it into law.

“Senate passage of ABLE means another hurdle cleared for millions who deserve the same financial planning tools available to other Americans,” said Crenshaw on Wednesday. “We wouldn’t be at this momentous turning point without bipartisanship and teamwork from the House, Senate, and hundreds of disability advocacy groups across the nation. Step-by-step with determination and focus, we turned a common-sense idea into a hard reality and opened the door to the American dream for so many. I look forward to the president signing this legislation into law.”

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According to sources within the Rick Scott administration, Layne Smith, general counsel for the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, is leaving DBPR to become general counsel for the Florida Lottery, effective Jan. 5.

The announcement of Smith's departure and his replacement at DBPR is expected later today.

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Even as President Barack Obama calls for new outreach with Cuba, a Florida Democrat on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee said Cuba has a long way to go and that Congress will look closely at whatever the White House offers.

“While I am overjoyed that Alan Gross and 53 additional political prisoners have finally been freed by the Cuban government, this regime does not deserve any humanitarian awards for releasing individuals who should never have been imprisoned in the first place,” said U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., on Wednesday. “The Cuban regime continues to brutally imprison political dissidents, block access to the Internet and the free flow of information, and deny the people of Cuba free and fair elections. As Congress reviews the president’s proposals in the weeks and months ahead, I will do everything I can to make sure these critical human rights issues remain front and center in this debate.”

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Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Fla., slammed President Barack Obama’s call for normalizing relations with communist Cuba on Wednesday. Lopez-Cantera is of Cuban ancestry.

“As a Cuban-American, I am disappointed by today’s actions from the Obama administration which set a dangerous precedent for rogue nations who know they can take American hostages at will,” Lopez-Cantera said before adding he was happy to see American aid worker Alan Gross -- who had been imprisoned by the Castro regime for five years -- released. “I am relieved for Alan Gross and his family. However, Cuba has a brutal dictatorship and the Obama administration’s actions only legitimize their oppressive behavior and make it harder for the people of Cuba who are fighting for democracy.”

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On Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced the United States will, for the first time since the Eisenhower administration, resume full diplomatic relations with Cuba, drawing the fire of Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla. Wednesday also saw the exchange of aid worker Alan Gross -- who has been accused by the Castro regime of being a spy and imprisoned for five years -- for three Cuban spies.

National media reports on Wednesday noted Obama and Cuban regime leader Raúl Castro had been negotiating for 18 months in secret talks with the aid of Canada and the Vatican. Obama and Castro spoke earlier this week via telephone as they reached a final agreement.

“Today’s release of Alan Gross from Cuban prison is long overdue, and I am relieved and pleased for him and his family,” Scott said on Wednesday. “However, it is unconscionable for President Obama to hand over spies responsible for the murder of two U.S. citizens, especially since Mr. Gross should have never been incarcerated. Time and time again, the Castro regime has chosen violence and suppression over freedom and democracy, and the Obama administration’s actions of appeasement to dictators diminish the United States’ role of being a beacon for democracy. As long as Cuba chooses dictatorship over democracy, I will continue to support the embargo and sanctions against them. President Obama is giving in to a tyrannical government that does not value human rights and completely disregards the people of Cuba who are fighting for democracy.”

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Cynthia O’Connell will stay in Gov. Rick Scott’s administration, keeping her post as secretary of the Florida Lottery which she has held since 2011.

“Under Secretary O’Connell’s leadership, the Florida Lottery brought in record sales resulting in an all-time record transfer to Florida’s Education Enhancement Trust Fund,” Scott said on Wednesday.:She is committed to continuing to maximizing funding for education, and I’m confident her work will help us on our path to make Florida the global leader in job creation.”

“I am thankful for the opportunity Gov. Scott has given me to continue to serve as secretary of the lottery,” O’Connell said. “As Florida’s economy continues to thrive, the lottery will work to increase our record investments into Florida’s Education Enhancement Trust Fund. We will also continue to work with the governor to make Florida the best place to get a great education and raise a family.”

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U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., expressed cautious optimism after President Barack Obama’s announcement of some normalization of American relations with Cuba and the exchange of aid worker Alan Gross -- who has been accused by the Castro regime of being a spy and imprisoned for five years -- for three Cuban spies.

“The success of this monumental development depends on Castro’s willingness to grant basic democratic freedoms for the Cuban people,” Nelson said on Wednesday.

Nelson said the embargo on Cuba should remain in place until the Castro regime takes steps toward granting freedom for the Cuban people.

“Let's see if Castro changes the behavior of a brutal police state and provides freedoms for the Cuban people,” Nelson said.

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From his perch on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., tore into President Barack Obama after news emerged that the administration exchanged three Cuban spies for aid worker Alan Gross who had been imprisoned by the Castro regime for five years.

"Alan Gross was unjustly imprisoned by the Castro dictatorship and his return is long overdue,” DeSantis said on Wednesday. “I am happy for him and his family. I am dismayed that, in exchange for the release of Gross, the Obama administration agreed to release imprisoned Cuban spies who conspired to kill Americans, as such an action legitimizes the Castro regime's coercive tactics. This prisoner swap sends a signal to rogue regimes and actors that taking an American hostage can be leveraged into scoring policy concessions. This makes America less safe and emboldens the dictatorship in Cuba.”

DeSantis also ripped Obama for looking to normalize relations with Cuba.

“Reports suggest that the Obama administration will also unilaterally relax sanctions on Cuba, even though 11 million Cubans still chafe under Castro's tyranny,” DeSantis said. “The goal of U.S. policy should be to liberate these hostages from the oppressive Castro regime, not to reward the regime with relaxed sanctions.”

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U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., cheered the news that Alan Gross was being released by the Castro regime but slammed the Obama administration for trying to normalize relations. Diaz-Balart also hit Obama for releasing three Cuban spies.

"Alan Gross should never have spent one day in prison and we are glad that he will finally be reunited with his family,” Diaz-Balart said on Wednesday. “However, the way that his release was achieved is outrageous and proves that once again, President Obama is the Appeaser in Chief who is willing to provide unprecedented concessions to a brutal dictatorship that opposes U.S. interests at every opportunity.

“The three remaining Cuban spies whom President Obama is releasing were convicted for spying on U.S. military installations, and one was convicted for his role in the shoot-down of an American civilian aircraft in international airspace, which murdered three innocent Americans and one U.S. resident,” Diaz-Balart added. “Their early release is an egregious miscarriage of justice. In addition, providing diplomatic relations and further weakening sanctions attempt to legitimize and provide hard currency to our hemisphere's worst human rights abuser. President Obama's actions are an unconscionable betrayal of America's fundamental values and a profound insult to the oppressed Cuban people.

“The unjust imprisonment and inhumane treatment of Alan Gross demonstrates the utter depravity of the Castro regime, as well as the severe repression that has afflicted the Cuban people for decades,” Diaz-Balart said. “President Obama's decision to allow the Castro regime to blackmail the United States and abandon our pro-democracy principles is an outrage. These changes to policy will further embolden the Cuban dictatorship to continue brutalizing and oppressing its own people as well as other anti-American dictatorship and terrorist organizations."

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Gov. Rick Scott announced on Wednesday that Ken Detzner will remain as secretary of the Department of State.

“I am happy to announce the reappointment of Ken Detzner as secretary of the Department of State,” Scott said on Wednesday. “Ken has been instrumental in overseeing fair and transparent elections in Florida. Ken has done a great job working with election supervisors to ensure a smooth election process. He is also committed to continuing to enhance Florida’s business-friendly climate. I am confident Ken will continue to work to make Florida the best place to live and work.”

“I am honored to be reappointed as secretary of the Department of State,” Detzner said. “We have worked tirelessly to ensure Florida has smooth and fair elections. Under Gov. Scott’s leadership, we will continue to make Florida the top destination for families.”

Detzner was named to his current post in 2012.

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On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., met with the U.S. mission to the United Nations to deliver a letter signed by almost 90 members of Congress warning about rising anti-Semitism around the globe and urging the U.N. to do more to combat it. Murphy met with Charles Radcliffe, the head of the global issues section of the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and Leonardo SC Castilho, a human rights officer with OHCHR.

"I thank Mr. Radcliffe, Mr. Castilho, and the U.N. for their commitment to promoting and protecting human rights across the world and I look forward to continuing to work together to find ways we can expand international efforts to address this pressing global issue," Murphy said. "I hope the U.N.'s upcoming meeting on the rise of global anti-Semitism results in positive action from all member states to combat such hateful acts throughout our international community."

Three of the four organizers of the letter hailed from the Sunshine State: Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Democrats U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch and Murphy. U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, also helped lead efforts on the letter.

Signers ranged the political spectrum from conservatives such as U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., to liberals like U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. Members of the Florida delegation who signed the letter were Republicans U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Democrats U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson.

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Despite not yet starting his second term in the U.S. House, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., will chair the U.S. House Subcommittee on National Security for the 114th Congress. U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform named DeSantis to the post on Tuesday.

"The federal government's core responsibility is to protect the security of our nation and the American people,” DeSantis said. “Yet, from the release of terrorist detainees by the Defense Department to habitual failures of the Department of Homeland Security regarding border security, the bureaucracy has fallen short of what the American people expect. I am thankful to Chairman-elect Jason Chaffetz for tapping me to lead this subcommittee, and I look forward to working with him and the rest of the committee's members to hold our national security agencies accountable on behalf of the American people."

“Congressman DeSantis’ military experience and leadership will help ensure effective oversight and accountability on some of the biggest issues facing national security,” Chaffetz said. “I look forward to working with him in his new role.”

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Rick Swearingen, a 30- year veteran of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) currently leading Capitol Police, was named interim director of the FDLE on Tuesday.

“With over 30 years of service at FDLE, Rick has dedicated his career to protecting Florida families and making sure Florida is a safe state for our residents, visitors and businesses,” Gov. Rick Scott said on Tuesday. “I look forward to working with Rick and the entire department as we continue to keep our crime rate at a 43-year low. I would like to thank Commissioner Bailey for his service at FDLE and for all he has done to keep our state safe. He has been a terrific leader in our law enforcement community.”

“I am honored to be chosen by Gov. Scott to lead FDLE,” Swearingen said. “As a lifelong Floridian, I care deeply about making Florida the safest state in the nation for our families and visitors. FDLE will continue to focus on helping Florida remain at a 43-year low in its crime rate so every family can live in a safe community.”

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The Republican Party of Florida released the following statement from chairman of the Republican Party of Florida's Jewish Leadership Council, Honorable Dr. Jeffrey Feingold, on Tuesday to coincide with the beginning of Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights:

"Chanukah is a celebration of light and a celebration of life. We rejoice on Chanukah for our religious freedom, our continued survival, our hope, our renewed spirit, and our progress toward peace."

"On behalf of Chairman Leslie Dougher and the Republican Party of Florida, we wish you a Chag Sameach Chanukah, Happy Chanukah and a healthy, happy, and peaceful New Year. Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek -- may we go from strength to strength."

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Even as Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi asks the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of a federal decision striking down the state constitutional amendment recognizing only traditional marriage in the Sunshine State, the Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers executive director weighed in on Tuesday, warning members not to issue same-sex marriage licenses until there is a binding order in place.

“Florida’s Court Clerks and Comptrollers’ duty is to act in accordance with Florida law. Florida Statutes are unique in regard to prohibiting the issuance of a marriage license to a couple that is not a man and a woman, in that it provides that a clerk who violates this prohibition is guilty of a criminal act and subject to a fine and/or imprisonment,” said Kenneth Kent, the executive director of the Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers. “Florida’s Court Clerks and Comptrollers are responsible for administering the law; therefore, it is not within their purview to interpret the law or act without a full understanding of what the law does and does not allow.

“At this time of uncertainty, the Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers have been advised by the association to follow the advice of our legal counsel and not issue same-sex marriage licenses until a binding order is issued by a court of proper jurisdiction,” Kent added.

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Gov. Rick Scott named Chad Poppell as secretary of the Department of Management Services (DMS) on Tuesday. Poppell has been chief of staff at the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) for almost two years.

“Chad has been a great leader at DEO, and has made it his mission to help Florida families succeed,” Scott said on Tuesday. “With more than a decade of service in government administration and his experience managing human resources for the city of Jacksonville, Chad will be a terrific leader at DMS. I know he will remain dedicated to promoting efficiency and providing support to Florida’s state agencies as they protect taxpayer investments in government.”

“I am thankful for the opportunity to serve as the secretary of the DMS and I am excited to work together with my fellow state agencies on behalf of all Floridians,” Poppell said. “I look forward to helping execute Gov. Scott’s vision of making Florida the best state in the nation to live, work and raise a family.”

Before his time at DEO, Poppell was director of employee services of JEA in Jacksonville. During his time in office, Mayor John Peyton of Jacksonville named Poppell chief of human resources for the city government.

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Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced Tuesday he will "actively explore" running for president in 2016. 

Tuesday's announcement isn't a definite decision by Bush to run for president, but it's the closest announcement he's made to confirming a run so far. 

“Like many of you, our family was blessed with the opportunity to gather together over the recent Thanksgiving holiday,” Bush wrote. “Columba and I are so proud of the wonderful adults our children have become, and we loved spending time with our three precious grandchildren. We shared good food and watched a whole lot of football.

“We also talked about the future of our nation,” Bush added. “As a result of these conversations and thoughtful consideration of the kind of strong leadership I think America needs, I have decided to actively explore the possibility of running for president of the United States.”

Bush plans to create an organization after the holidays that will help position him for a possible bid.

“In January, I also plan to establish a leadership PAC that will help me facilitate conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation,” Bush noted. “The PAC’s purpose will be to support leaders, ideas and policies that will expand opportunity and prosperity for all Americans. In the coming months, I hope to visit with many of you and have a conversation about restoring the promise of America.”

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Gov. Rick Scott is keeping Ken Lawson as secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR).

“I am proud to announce the reappointment of Ken Lawson as secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation,” Scott said on Tuesday. “Ken has worked every day to streamline the permitting process and reduce burdensome regulations. Under his leadership at DBPR, we have cut professional license wait times from 41 days to an average of two days. Ken has played an integral role in creating a business climate conducive to growth and expansion."

“It is an honor to have the opportunity to continue my work with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation,” Lawson said. “Our department is committed to creating an environment for all businesses to succeed.”

Lawson started at his post in March 2011 after serving as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida and as an assistant secretary of enforcement for the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

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Gov. Rick Scott announced on Tuesday that juvenile arrests continued to drop in Florida, with a reduction of 8 percent in 2013-14. A new report from the state Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) has found a 36 percent decline in juvenile arrests in the last five years, leading to the lowest juvenile arrest level in more than 30 years..

“Making Florida the best state in the nation to get a job and raise a family is our mission – and that starts with making sure we have safe communities for our families and job creators,” Scott said on Tuesday. “I would like to thank everyone at the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and our hard-working law enforcement community for their continued work.”

“This decrease in arrests over nearly every juvenile offense category, including serious offenses, shows that DJJ’s reform initiatives are working,” said Interim Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Christina Daly. “Our department made a commitment to transforming our state’s juvenile justice system to provide the right services to Florida’s youth while remaining focused on increasing public safety. While we are proud of the work we’ve done, this is only the beginning of what our agency, along with our many stakeholders, can accomplish.”

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Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced on Monday that her office has asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of a federal decision which would allow same-sex marriage in the Sunshine State. Under the current decision, the amendment to the Florida Constitution recognizing only traditional marriage approved by voters at the ballot box in 2008 will come to an end on Jan. 5.

“When the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida ordered the Washington County clerk of court to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple, it temporarily stayed the order,” Bondi’s office announced on Monday. “That stay is now set to expire at the end of the day on Jan. 5, 2015. The recent decision denying a longer stay has created statewide confusion about the effect of the injunction, which is directed to only one of Florida's sixty-seven clerks of court.

“In a continuation of the effort to maintain uniformity and order throughout Florida until final resolution of the numerous challenges to the voter-approved constitutional amendment on marriage, the attorney general’s office filed with the United States Supreme Court an application to extend the stay,” Bondi added. “If the Supreme Court grants the application, the stay will remain in place during the state's appeal. If the Supreme Court denies the stay, then the preliminary injunction will become effective at the end of the day on Jan. 5, 2015.”

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The Revenue Estimating Conference released a report on Monday showing Florida’s general revenue is up $296 million while next year the general revenue will be almost $332 million higher than expected forecasts.

Gov. Rick Scott said the increased revenue shows Florida’s economy is coming back strong.

“Today’s news of increased revenue reflects the positive steps we are taking to grow our economy,” Scott said on Monday. “We are working every day to make Florida the premier destination in the world for business and I applaud our job creators who have helped add almost 680,000 new private-sector jobs in less than four years. Job growth is an indicator of our economic strength and we hope to see even more gains. Because we are creating an environment where our private sector can succeed, our economy is growing which makes it possible for us to invest in areas important to Florida families. I look forward to working with the Legislature to continue to cut taxes by $1 billion over the next two years and increase K-12 per pupil funding to the highest level in our state’s history this coming year.”

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Gov. Rick Scott said on Monday that Dr. John Armstrong will stay on in his administration as Florida surgeon general and secretary of the Florida Department of Health (DOH).

“As a medical professional and expert in public health preparedness, Dr. Armstrong has dedicated his life to serving others,” Scott said on Monday. “He has been a great leader at DOH, and has worked each day to support public health goals, link Floridians to needed health care services, and educate communities on good health habits. Dr. Armstrong has also taken every possible step to ensure our state and hospitals are fully prepared to handle any potential cases of Ebola. I am confident he will continue to work toward improving the health and wellness of our state as we make Florida the best place to live, work and raise a family.”

“It is an honor to have the opportunity to continue my service to the state of Florida as state surgeon general and secretary of DOH,” Armstrong said. “We are committed to working with Gov. Scott and communities across the state in order to protect and promote the health of all Floridians.”

Armstrong was named to his current post back in April 2012.

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Former Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) Chairman Lenny Curry announced on Monday that he had reeled in the support of three members of the Florida Cabinet as he runs against Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, the first Democrat to hold that post since former Mayor Ed Austin in the early 1990s. State Attorney General Pam Bondi, Florida’s CFO Jeff Atwater and state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said on Monday they were backing Curry.

"For these three principled conservatives to offer their support and place their trust in me is humbling," said Curry. "I am proud that such respected leaders have joined our campaign to make Jacksonville a city where every person in every neighborhood can see their dreams become a reality."

Curry is not the only Republican looking to beat Brown. Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Bishop is also running in the March 24 election and there is some buzz that former state Rep. Mike Hogan, who Brown beat in 2011, could emerge for another run. There are no party primaries in the Jacksonville mayoral race. If no candidate gets a majority on March 24, the top two candidates will face a runoff election on May 19.

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As the Democrats ready to cede control of the U.S. Senate to Republicans in the coming weeks, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., now in the middle of his third term, will rank as one of the senior Democrats in the chamber.

The Senate Democratic leadership announced its committee assignments on Friday and Nelson garnered a few plum assignments. Nelson will lead Democrats on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and sit on the Armed Services, Finance and Aging committees. Nelson will be the second highest Democrat on Armed Services and is the senior -- but not ranking -- member of his party on the Aging Committee.

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