Sunshine State News Blogs

Former Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) Chairman Lenny Curry filed his paperwork to run against Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown on Tuesday.

“It is official,” Curry posted on Twitter. “I filed to run for mayor of Jacksonville this AM.”

Curry joins fellow Republican City Councilman Bill Bishop in the race.
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Rick Scott's campaign team attempted to contrast the records of Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist on Tuesday, hitting the former governor on taxes, debt, revenue and waste.

“Our state has turned around … We have more jobs," said Scott. "We've gotten more people back to working. We've strengthened our investments.”

Check out the graph below:
Scott graph
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Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi made her case about why she is defending the state constitutional amendment which mandates only traditional marriage is recognized in the Sunshine State.

Bondi released a statement on Monday night about her role in defending the law in the current challenge from same-sex couples wishing to be married in Florida.

In the statement, Bondi said:

“In 2008, Florida voters amended their state Constitution to define marriage as a union between a man and a woman. In response to a recent challenge to this provision, and in keeping with my sworn duty to uphold the laws of the land, my office recently filed a legal brief defending the voters' decision.

“The fundamental argument of our brief is that the voters had the right to adopt this definition of marriage, just as they have the right in the future to change their minds and afford legal recognition to same-sex marriage, should they so choose.

“Defending the wishes of the voters who enacted Florida's marriage amendment necessarily requires me to make good-faith legal arguments. In presenting those arguments, my office understands and respects that there are many who profoundly disagree with the voters' decision. But anything less than the best defense of our voters' policy preferences would disenfranchise the electorate, undermine the judicial process, and cast aside the professional responsibility that guides me every day as attorney general. The subject of same-sex marriage is understandably a matter of intense personal concern and sensitivity for Floridians on all sides of the debate. While defending this constitutional amendment, we have remained respectful and showed consideration for those with differing viewpoints -- acknowledging in the introduction that this issue is one with ‘good people on all sides.’

“Therefore, I take exception to those who have sought to manipulate our brief, trying to make it something it is not. The brief does not argue for or against same-sex marriage as a matter of policy, wisdom, or fairness. Those decisions are for the voters of each state, not for lawyers or courts. It is my duty to protect Florida from the ‘harm’ of a federal injunction overriding the will of Florida voters.

“Some states recognize same-sex marriage, and some states do not. As the brief explains on pages two and three:

‘This case is not about which policy choice is better or worse. And this case is not about whether the debate should continue (which it surely will). This case is about whether states can make their own determinations.

‘If the ongoing debate leads Florida’s citizens to change their policy -- as several states recently have -- they may do so. In the meantime, this court should ‘exercise great caution when asked to take sides in an ongoing public policy debate,” Lofton v. Sec’y, Fla. Dep’t of Children & Family Servs., 358 F.3d 804, 827 (11th Cir. 2004), and leave Florida’s important policy determinations to Florida’s citizens.’

“We are defending this amendment based solely upon judicial precedent and not the personal views of anyone in our office. Anything else would be bad lawyering -- just as in all cases, the personal opinions of the advocates and the judges involved are utterly irrelevant.

“Our brief makes the case in defense of Florida's marriage amendment with great respect for the plaintiffs and those whom they represent. Any suggestions to the contrary are not only wrong, but hurtful, designed to inflame, and insulting to everyone involved. When I defend the voters' decisions with professionalism and civility, I'm simply doing my job because my job is not to write the law, but to defend it.”
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The launch of Florida’s new Medicaid programs, the Statewide Managed Medical Assistance (MMA) and Child Welfare (CW) programs, continued Monday, with roll-outs in Regions 5, 6 and 8. The programs cover 14 Florida counties including Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough.

In a statement issued Monday, Sunshine Health, a subsidiary of Centene Corp., said it is responsible for coordinating health services for families, children and persons with disabilities in those regions under the MMA and Child Welfare programs. Sunshine Health, with offices in Tallahassee and South Florida, is the second largest company offering Medicaid services in Florida under the MMA and it is the only one providing that service statewide for child welfare and foster children.

The initial roll-out was launched in early May in Regions 2, 3 and 4 across multiple counties in the Panhandle, North Central and Northeast parts of the state.

“Our members and new enrollees are our top priority," said Chris Paterson, CEO of Sunshine Health. "We remain committed to ensuring that they have all the information they need to make informed decisions about their health care.

"We want to assure enrollees that the state of Florida and our health plan have taken the steps necessary to ensure that all members receive seamless continuity of care during this transition period for their prescription medications, transportation and other health care services.” 

If new members of Sunshine Health’s plan have questions beyond the information they were given at inception -- including  programs and physicians in the region -- they can call 1-866-796-0530 or 1-800-955-8770 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. 

New members under the MMA and/or Child Welfare programs who use transportation services should not experience any disruptions. Sunshine Health members or providers should call the company's transportation provider, TMS, at 866-201-9968 to confirm or schedule transportation. 

Floridians in these counties who have automatically been assigned to the Sunshine Health plan by the Agency for Health Care Administration will have 90 days from the date of their enrollment to either remain in the plan or select another plan offered in their region by contacting the Florida Medicaid Choice Counseling Hotline at 1-877-711-3662 or 1-866-467-4970 (TDD).

For more information members can either visit Sunshine Health at or by directly contacting a care coordinator:

Managed Medical Assistance: 1-866-796-0530; (TDD/TTY) 1-800-955-8770.

Child Welfare/Foster Care: 1-855-463-4100; (TDD/TTY) 1-800-955-8770.

Statewide Medicaid Managed Care Regions 5, 6 and 8 include the following counties and Sunshine Health programs:

Region 5: (MMA and Child Welfare) Pasco and Pinellas.

Region 6: (MMA and Child Welfare) Hardee, Highlands, Hillsborough, Manatee and Polk.

Region 8: (MMA and Child Welfare) Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hendry, Lee and Sarasota.

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Kartik Krishnaiyer posted a new poll on his website, The Florida Squeeze:

Should Nan Rich Drop Out of the Governor's Race before Qualifying?

Nan obviously saw the question fairly quickly on Monday, didn't waste a minute answering it herself and letting Democrats know what she's going to do no matter how they vote. She tweeted out this:

I will not be withdrawing from the Governor's race! Vote in the poll:  #StandWithNan

Why would Nan be going anywhere now, when the race is just getting interesting? But for fun, check out comments left under the poll -- which by 5 p.m. was running 61 percent for "no, don't drop out" to 31 percent for "yes, drop out."

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Libertarian gubernatorial candidate Adrian Wyllie made the ballot by paying a fee on Monday after raising $8,000 over three days.

“A few of us were working nearly around the clock promoting the moneybomb, we were bringing in money and by Saturday afternoon we knew we would have the money to pay the fee but we had other, bigger, problems,” Danielle Alexandre, Wyllie’s campaign manager, explained on Monday.

“I read through the qualification instructions and found that the check for the filing fee had to be signed by our campaign treasurer. The problem? He was on a fishing trip, on a boat, until mid-June. Also, the forms had to be notarized, Adrian has no identification and every notary he knows is closed for the weekend. After many phone calls, we found our treasurer was staying 40 minutes south of Tallahassee and the boat came in for the night each night. Our great friend at Goin' Postal traveled over 30 miles to meet Adrian and notarize his forms first thing Sunday morning. After an afternoon campaign event in Winter Haven, we made the long trip to meet our treasurer and then arrived in Tallahassee a short time after midnight last night.

“Today, all of the stress, long hours in the car, dedication of our campaign staff and the amazing supporters who donated $8,000 in those 3 days, paid off as we were first to turn in the paperwork at the Florida Division of Elections office just before 9 a.m. this morning,” Alexandre continued.
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U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., announced his support of Jorge Bonilla for the Republican nomination to challenge U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., in November.

“Jorge has proven to be a formidable candidate, with great knowledge and understanding of the pressing issues that our country is currently facing, including those issues that involve our veterans,” Rooney said. “Having served in the Marine Corps and U.S. Navy, Jorge knows how important service to country is. Now he wants to continue his service in the Congress. We would be lucky to have him.”

“Rep. Tom Rooney’s congressional tenure is distinguished by his commitment to fiscal discipline, his work on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, and his tireless advocacy for Florida agriculture,” Bonilla said. “I look forward to joining him in these efforts, and am humbled to receive his support.”

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On Monday, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan,  R-Fla., raised concerns about a deal to exchange Taliban prisoner U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl in exchange for five terrorists captured by the U.S. Buchanan wrote Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on the matter.

“I am writing to ask how the Pentagon plans to ensure that the release of five high-level Taliban terrorists will not threaten American soldiers or civilians,” Buchanan wrote. “The release of these Taliban extremists from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, raises serious questions about negotiating with terrorists and, more immediately, the threat posed by these five high-risk terrorists.

“... the Afghan detainees released from Guantanamo include two senior militant commanders tied to operations that killed innocent Americans,” Buchanan added. “In fact, according to assessments by the Pentagon in 2008, all five detainees were considered ‘high risk, as they may pose a threat to the U.S., its interests and allies.’  It is no wonder why the Taliban has made several attempts over the past 10 years to free these terrorists from custody.

“Why now are they no longer considered a high-risk threat and their release suddenly justifiable?” Buchanan asked. “Therefore, I respectfully ask that the Department of Defense provide my office with answers to the following: What measures have been put in place to ensure these terrorists don’t simply return to the secret Taliban hideaways to plot reprisals against the United States and its allies? How can we be certain they will not begin to recruit and replenish Taliban forces? Do we understand the consequences for the rest of our forces of a policy based on negotiating with terrorists for the release of hostages or prisoners? And does that policy put in danger American troops stationed abroad?     

“It is imperative for the safety of Americans and our national security that the questions above be answered,” Buchanan wrote in conclusion. “I look forward to your response and thank you for your time and attention to this matter.”

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Gov. Rick Scott signed Florida's $77.1 billion state budget for the 2014-2015 fiscal year into law on Monday.

This year's budget is 3 percent higher than the previous year's budget, making it one of the largest budgets in Florida's history. The new budget is the first in which the Legislature has enjoyed a fiscal surplus and will cover the fiscal year from July 1-June 30, 2015. 

Among the budget items is an increase in education spending and child welfare services. 

Scott vetoed several items in the state's budget, but still didn't ax much -- he cut $66.8 million of the budget with line-item vetoes. 

See the full list of vetoed items here

This is a developing story. Stay tuned for updates.
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With hurricane season starting this week, Gov. Rick Scott told Floridians to be prepared and gather plans to deal with potential emergencies.

“With the 2014 hurricane season under way, I want to encourage every family to get a plan,” Scott said on Monday. “Preparing for the upcoming hurricane season should be a priority for every Florida family, and we must take action now before it’s too late. Families should include important phone numbers and contact information for members of your family, as well as information on where you will go if there is a need to evacuate so you can meet your family if separated. While it has been 10 years since the 2004 hurricane season where Florida was hit by four different storms, we know it only takes one to devastate a community.”

Scott also noted that there is a tax holiday on hurricane supplies until June 8.

Bryan Koon, the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said Floridians should learn local evaluation routes and storm surge zones.

“The Know Your Zone campaign encourages everyone to understand storm surge and evacuation zones,” said Koon. “Storm surge is a real danger, but it isn’t the only danger. Heed instructions from your local emergency officials when advised to evacuate. Even if you’re in an area that may not experience storm surge, you could be completely cut off from rescuers if you choose to stay.”

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Let’s Get to Work, a group with ties to Gov. Rick Scott, released a new ad on Monday, taking aim at former Gov. Charlie Crist for raising tuition during his time in office. Despite spending most of his political career as a Republican, Crist is the favorite for the Democratic nomination to challenge Scott in November. Scott’s team is spending more than $2 million on the new ad which will hit the airwaves on Wednesday. 

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"Not only is Charlie Crist’s economic record a disaster, as governor he supported a bill that allowed colleges and universities to increase tuition up to 15 percent every single year,” said Leslie Dougher, the new chairwoman of the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), on Monday. Charlie delivered a one-two punch to Florida families already facing difficult circumstances, putting college further out of reach. Thankfully, Rick Scott repealed Charlie’s tuition increase so college is more affordable to all Florida families."
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The Florida Democratic Party went on the attack against Gov. Rick Scott, launching a new video against him, hitting him on education spending. But Allison Tant, the chairwoman of the Florida Democrats, tried to ignore the record of former Gov. Charlie Crist. Tant noted that per-pupil spending is below 2007 levels, the first year of Crist’s term as governor. After leaving the GOP in 2010, Crist ran for the U.S. Senate with no party affiliation before joining the Democrats in 2012. Crist is now the favorite for the Democratic nomination to challenge Scott.

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“For three years, Floridians have witnessed the devastating effects Rick Scott has had on public education. Now, in addition to running for re-election, Rick Scott is trying to run from his record of slashing education funding while lining the pockets of special interests and top campaign contributors,” said Tant on Monday. “But no amount of poll-tested talking points can change the fact that per-pupil spending still remains below 2007 levels, and that Bright Futures serves far fewer students than it did seven years ago.  

“This week, Rick Scott is expected to sign a budget filled with hundreds of millions in pork-barrel spending,” Tant added. “He will have to answer to Florida’s teachers, students, and parents for every dollar he fails to veto as our schools continue to struggle. Floridians will be watching carefully as Rick Scott decides what’s most important: pet projects for special interests or giving our children the best education possible.”
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From his perch on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., cheered the news that U.S. Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl was released by the Taliban but said Congress had to investigate if the Obama administration paid too high a price for the exchange of prisoners.

“The release of Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl is welcome news,” Rubio said. “I join all Americans in celebrating his reunion with his family. However, I am concerned about the steps the Obama administration took to secure his release.

“The release of five senior Taliban commanders to Qatar under unspecified conditions is very troubling and may endanger American lives,” Rubio added. “In the coming days the Congress must examine the circumstances under which Sgt. Bergdhal's release was achieved, and what conditions, if any, the administration secured to ensure these enemy combatants do not return to the battlefield.

“I fear that the administration's decision to negotiate with the Taliban for Sgt. Bergdahl's release could encourage future terrorist kidnappings of Americans," Rubio said in conclusion. “I fear also that the administration is endangering U.S. and coalition forces by releasing some of the most dangerous detainees captured in the War on Terrorism. As Americans, we never forget our brave men and women who are captured or missing in action. We also must ensure we are not further undermining U.S. national security by releasing motivated terrorists back to the battlefield.”
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Even as hurricane season begins this week, Florida TaxWatch offered a warning that the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund and Citizens Property Insurance Corp. need major reformation.  

"As a part of the $500 million tax cut passed by (the)Legislature and signed by Gov. Scott this past session, Floridians will get three opportunities to shop tax-free this summer,” Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, said on Friday. “Beginning tomorrow and lasting until June 8th, taxpayers will save their hard-earned dollars on hurricane preparedness items thanks to the first sales tax holiday. This sales tax holiday is a great way to provide broad-based tax relief for consumers while promoting safety as we enter a potentially devastating hurricane season, which begins on June 1.   

"Just as the Legislature has thoughtfully empowered Florida's citizens to better protect themselves against Mother Nature's fury before a storm, lawmakers must do something to ensure they are protected after a storm hits, too,” Calabro added. “Since the devastating hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005, Floridians have been fortunate to avoid a direct hurricane hit. Unfortunately, we are still paying for the storms that hit our shores 10 years ago, through assessments on our insurance policies."  

"As this hurricane preparedness sales tax goes into effect and we start the 2014 hurricane season, I ask not only the citizens of Florida to protect themselves from the coming storms, but also the state to protect its citizens from a potential fiscal nightmare,” Calabro said in conclusion.

Florida TaxWatch released a study on the Cat Fund and Citizens which can be read here.

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Clay County GOP Chairwoman Leslie Dougher will be taking over as the next chair of the Republican Party of Florida. On Saturday, Dougher was elected to the position at the party's quarterly meeting in Tampa, receiving 106 votes.

Dougher will replace Lenny Curry as chair. Curry announced he would be stepping down from the position at the end of April to weigh the possibility of running for mayor of Jacksonville.

Martin County GOP Chair Eric Miller was also nominated for the position. He received 69 votes.

Dougher's term will end in January 2015.

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Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, is feeling good about his application to be the next president of Florida State University.

"I hadn't filled out a resume in probably 30 or 40 years," Thrasher told Sunshine State News. "It's been a while, so I had a lot of help."

Thrasher explained he'd be a good fit for the presidency because of his background in legislation, law and business.

"All of those components come together ... in running a major research university," he said. "I'm not an academic ... but I also think that areas where I've had some strength really relate to those areas, too."

Transitioning from a state lawmaker to a university president would be a major transition for Thrasher.

"I have to recognize, and I will recognize, that I work for a board," he said.

But beyond that, Thrasher seemed excited at the prospect of returning to FSU.

"It'd be the honor of my life," he said.
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The Republican Party of Florida kicked off its quarterly meeting in Tampa on Friday, setting the stage for the selection of a new chairperson for the party. 

Chairmen and chairwomen from Florida's 67 counties gathered together to get up to speed on the happenings within the RPOF.

Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera kicked off the meeting by slamming former Gov. Charlie Crist.

"When the state needed leadership, what did Charlie do?" asked Lopez-Cantera. "He focused on Charlie."

The two-day event will include meetings between chairmen and chairwomen of county parties as well as a final selection for RPOF Chair Lenny Curry's replacement. In April, Curry announced he'd be stepping down from his position in the party to possibly pursue a mayoral bid in Jacksonville.

Curry told party members that even as he "moves on" -- possibly to run for mayor -- re-electing Gov. Rick Scott would be his first priority.

A new chairperson will be selected Saturday.
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A Seattle man imploded on his ill-conceived plot to get even with Florida Gov. Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner and finally pleaded guilty Thursday to charges related to sending letters to GOP donors questioning their citizenship and ability to vote in the 2012 election.

Ardent Democrat James Webb Baker Jr. pleaded guilty in Tampa federal court to one count each of voter intimidation and identification fraud. He faces a maximum sentence of six years in prison and a $350,000 fine.

It was all about payback, Baker has said.

Prosecutors have explained that Baker became angry when he read about effots in Florida to purge voter registration rolls of non-U.S. citizens. He believed the purges were an effort to suppress voter turnout of naturalized citizens who were likely minorities and more likely to vote Democratic.

John Fitzgibbons, Baker's attorney, released a statement to speak for his client: “Mr. Baker regrets the events which led to these charges. He has acknowledged and accepted responsibility for his actions and we look forward to the conclusion of this matter.”

Baker has signed a plea agreement acknowledging he created letters that looked like they had come from real Florida election officials and sent them to 200 donors who had given to Scott's campaign, including Republican Party of Florida Chairman Lenny Curry.

The letter told recipients that in order to restore their voting eligibility, they had 15 days to fill out a voter registration form. Baker apparently inserted a warning in bold that anyone who casts a vote without being properly registered could face criminal prosecution.

He knew he was breaking the law, according to the plea agreement. He used a Xerox Phaser 6180 printer he bought from and tried to avoid detection by wearing gloves and using a sponge to seal the envelopes.

The plea agreement states, “(Baker) knew his actions were unlawful, and he knew his actions were intimidating, threatening, or coercive. The defendant sent the letters for the purpose of interfering with the recipients’ right to vote.”

A story in Friday's Miami Herald says sentence guidelines indicate Baker is unlikely to get a full six years in prison.

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Gov. Rick Scott weighed in on VA Secretary Eric Shinseki‘s resignation, calling it a needed action but insisting more was needed to reform the VA system.

“The resignation of Eric Shinseki is a good first step in much-needed reform in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs,” Scott said. “Over the last several weeks, I have pressed federal VA hospitals to allow access for our state inspectors from the Agency for Health Care Administration to ensure that our nation’s veterans were getting the treatment they deserve. Our goal is to improve the quality of care for veterans using these hospitals in Florida. In order to accomplish this goal, a big injection of transparency and accountability is needed.

“That is why, today, AHCA submitted a FOIA appeal for the records the federal Department of Veterans Affairs has failed to provide by the deadline stated in public records law,” Scott added. “This action is independent of the lawsuit AHCA is preparing for the right to gain access to the VA hospitals. Today’s news is a step forward, but our administration will continue to hold the VA accountable to the veterans they serve.”
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After VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigned on Friday, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, praised his record in the Army but insisted his record in the Obama Cabinet “will forever be tainted” due to poor leadership on VA medical centers.

"Everybody knows Eric Shinseki is an honorable man whose dedication to our country is beyond reproach,” Miller said on Friday. “I thank him for his legacy of service to our nation. Unfortunately, Shinseki's tenure at the Department of Veterans Affairs will forever be tainted by a pervasive lack of accountability among poorly performing VA employees and managers, apparent widespread corruption among medical center officials and an unparalleled lack of transparency with Congress, the public and the press. Appropriately, Shinseki is taking the brunt of the blame for these problems, but he is not the only one within VA who bears responsibility. Nearly every member of Shinseki's inner circle failed him in a major way. Those who surrounded Shinseki shielded him from crucial facts and hid bad news reports, in the process convincing him that some of the department’s most serious, well-documented and systemic issues were merely isolated incidents to be ignored. Eric Shinseki trusted the VA bureaucracy, and the VA bureaucracy let him down.

“Right now, VA needs a leader who will take swift and decisive action to discipline employees responsible for mismanagement, negligence and corruption that harms veterans while taking bold steps to replace the department’s culture of complacency with a climate of accountability,” Miller added. “VA’s problems are deadly serious, and whomever the next secretary may be, they will receive no grace period from America’s veterans, American taxpayers and Congress.”
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With VA Secretary Eric Shinseki resigning on Friday, reactions are coming in from across the Sunshine State. U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., praised Shinseki’s service in the military but insisted there were “serious issues” at VA medical centers under his watch.  

"It's unacceptable that VA facilities across the U.S. have been neglecting the needs of our veterans,” Ross said on Friday. “The recent report from the inspector general of the VA also confirmed the mismanagement. While we appreciate Sec. Shinseki's service as a veteran himself, we can't overlook these serious issues that have continued under his tenure.

"I'm hopeful that new leadership will mean new practices that will always place the needs of our heroes first,” Ross said. “We need to have a thorough investigation of the VA's egregious actions to make sure that our veterans always receive the timely and quality care that they deserve."
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VA Secretary Eric Shinseki offered his resignation to President Barack Obama who accepted it on Friday. CNN has the details. Shinseki had been under fire after reports emerged across the nation of problems at VA medical facilities including altered waiting lists. Leaders from Florida -- including Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla. -- had called for Shinseki’s resignation.

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The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) on Friday came out swinging at freshman U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., who is a top target for Republicans.

Noting that the U.S. Commerce Department released a report showing the economy shrunk 1 percent in the first quarter of 2014, the NRCC pointed toward something Garcia said at the end of April when speaking to the Upper Keys Democrats.

“I think you’re feeling the economy slowly come back,” Garcia said. “It’s certainly not where we want it to be, but I think in the slow progression of where we are, I think we’re in a good place. But it’s gonna take each and every one of you to sort of dig in, put your shoulder to it, and work with us to try to move this forward.”

The NRCC tried to link Garcia to President Barack Obama’s economic policies.

“It is clear that Joe Garcia is out of touch with Florida voters as he continues to support Obama’s failed economic policies and believes the economy is growing,” said Andrea Bozek, a spokeswoman for the NRCC. “Florida families deserve a Republican leader in Congress who will vote against the president and his administration’s job-destroying policies and will promote economic stability.”
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U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., called for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign on Thursday after an inspector general’s report was released earlier this week noting the problems of VA medical centers across the nation.

“This damning report confirms a systematic failure of the VA to uphold their sacred duty to provide care for the brave men and women who have served our nation,” Murphy said. “While I highly respect his service to our nation, the neglect by the VA in treating our veterans during Sec. Shinseki’s tenure is inexcusable. The seriousness of this situation requires that leadership be held responsible, which is why I respectfully request Mr. Shinseki step down, allowing new leadership to fully investigate and address these issues to make sure these practices do not occur again. Only then can the VA begin to restore trust with our nation, veterans, and military families.”
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Florida TaxWatch released a study on Friday focusing on commuter rail efforts in the Sunshine State, namely SunRail in Orlando and All Aboard Florida in the southern part of the state.

"Florida's population is growing and is expected to continue increasing comparative to other states around the nation; therefore it is critical that we invest in our state's transportation system to ensure Florida remains a desirable place to live, work and play," said Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch. "As the state decides how to update its infrastructure to meet growing demand, we must be sure to explore all options to implement the best solution for taxpayers."

The report gives the efforts mixed marks, noting the projects help create jobs -- SunRail is creating 17,000 jobs in Orlando -- and boosting economic development while leading to lower property values and, surprisingly, more traffic congestion.

"There are both substantial costs and substantial benefits to large infrastructure projects such as these," said Jerry Parrish, Florida TaxWatch’s chief economist. "We must work diligently to make sure that all the costs and benefits are calculated correctly when making investments using public money."

The report can be read here.

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With the VA medical facilities under question in recent weeks, U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., who served in the Army and now sits on the U.S. House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, announced his support for the “Veteran-Centered Access to Coordinated Health Care Act.” The bill would ensure the VA secretary sets up contracts with non-VA medical care “when it is not capable of providing services for geographical, capacity or timeliness reasons" and expand Project ARCH (Access Received Closer to Home), a pilot program in five states focused on veterans who live out of driving distance to VA facilities.

“The secret waiting lists in Arizona and other VA facilities aren’t isolated incidents – they are indicative of widespread problems at the VA in delivering care to veterans when they need it, where they need it,” Rooney said on Wednesday. “I have heard from veterans across my district who have been forced to wait months to see a doctor or begin needed, lifesaving treatment. Veterans in Florida’s heartland have to travel long distances for simple examinations and procedures. This is unacceptable.

“Just like veterans can take their GI benefits and go to any accredited school of their choosing, they should be able to take their health care benefits and go to any licensed doctor, especially when the VA can’t treat them in a timely manner,” Rooney added. “By allowing the VA to contract with non-VA providers, we can ensure that our veterans get the care they need, when they need it.”
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From his perch on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., is doing his best to exterminate a pest plaguing Florida -- the conehead termite. At an Appropriations Committee meeting on Thursday, Crenshaw’s amendment to the 2015 Agriculture Appropriations bill using federal funds to create a program to eradicate the conehead termite was added and passed.

“The conehead termite poses a severe economic and destructive threat to agricultural crops, trees and shrubs, wood and paper products, as well as homes and structures,” Crenshaw said on Thursday. “Without action, that price tag is estimated at more than $260 million in increased annual termite control costs, which does not include the costs for repairs of further damage if the infestation spreads. That’s why I’ve taken action to stop the conehead termite in its tracks. Florida timber producers, the housing industry, and homeowners deserve the additional protection that this measure provides.”

Crenshaw’s proposal won the applause of a former colleague who is now in Tallahassee.

“Since 2012, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer services has worked diligently to fight the spread of the conehead termite, an invasive and destructive termite that does not respond to conventional termite treatments,” said Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. “This pest is a serious threat to Florida’s homes and businesses, and we appreciate Congressman Ander Crenshaw’s support to help our eradication efforts.”
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Let Charlie out of his cage and he's flailing like a lost canary.

That was some luncheon speech the Democratic gubernatorial candidate treated trial lawyers to Wednesday at the posh Coconut Grove Ritz-Carlton.

Apparently Charlie figured he was among friends at the Miami-Dade Justice Association fundraiser, so who needs to talk policy?

For their fat campaign checks, Charlie gave lawyers a full complement of the kind of gems that, well, make him so gosh-darn lovable. Never mind his vision for Florida, they learned this about the candidate instead:

His favorite movie is "Philadelphia."

His book costs $25 ("I think it'll make you laugh, but it might make you cry").

He just received a check from Steven Spielberg.

He knows why lawyers love the law. It's "because when you can actually right a wrong, it's really an amazing thing."

He can't believe Gov. Rick Scott didn't take the high-speed rail money ("I'm like, 'what was that about?'").

He doesn't think the governor understands transportation problems because he rides around "in his helicopter" instead of driving on the freeways. ... Not that there's anything wrong with helicopters. "Some of you might have one. God bless you if you do. And if you do, we'd like to use it during the campaign."

From donors, he only wants a dollar. "Please go to and give me $1," Or ... wait! He's running against a $100 million fortune. "So give me the one, and if you want to give a little more that's between you and the Big Guy. And then we'll get your email, and it's free, we can communicate."

There's more. It was weird. Read the full story in the Miami New Times. As reporter Trevor Bach said in his Thursday story, for more than half an hour "... the rail-thin, perma-tanned former governor, wearing a tie and shirt as clean and white as his hair, seemed to employ what might best be called a stream-of-consciousness speech model."

Charlie the Republican was known for his flip-flops; Charlie the Democrat may be better known for his flops.

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On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., called for VA Secretary Eric Shinseki to resign after a critical inspector general’s report focusing on altered wait lists at VA medical centers across the nation. Rubio called for the Senate to pass his bill which would make it easier for the VA secretary to fire or demote problem employees. The House passed a version of the bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., earlier in the month.

“The inspector general’s report not only confirmed our worst fears about rampant mismanagement and institutional neglect at the VA, it also revealed the problem is even worse than we thought,” Rubio said. “In light of the report, it is clear now that Sec. Shinseki should tender his resignation to the president, and President Obama should accept it. But Sec. Shinseki should not shoulder the blame alone. Current law prohibits Sec. Shinseki – and whoever might succeed him – from firing the very people that the inspector general found responsible for the ‘daily mismanagement, inappropriate hiring decisions, sexual harassment, and bullying behavior’ that contributed to the shameful conditions throughout the VA system.

“Fifty senators, including five Democrats, have now signaled their support for common-sense legislation that the Senate could pass and send to the president as early as next week,” Rubio added. “This is the same legislation that passed the House 390-33, with 162 Democrats voting in favor. This legislation would bring basic accountability to the VA and ensure the people responsible for the gross negligence and mistreatment of our nation’s heroes are punished. I hope more Senate Democrats will join Republicans in sponsoring this measure and insist that Democratic leadership drop their obstruction to this common-sense legislation.”
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This week, U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., sent a letter to  U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker asking if she can extend red snapper season in the Gulf which is currently limited to nine days.

“The government’s continued mismanagement of the Gulf of Mexico fishery has caused serious harm to Florida’s coastal economies,” said Southerland on Wednesday night. “While it is clear long-term changes are needed, I have outlined immediate actions Sec. Pritzker can take to provide much-needed relief to our hard-working fishermen. I am hopeful the secretary will recognize the severity of this situation and restore the certainty our coastal communities deserve.”

Southerland plans to add amendments to various bills in the full House and on the  House Committee on Natural Resources focused on fishing.
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