Sunshine State News Blogs

Teacher David Cox took 37.5 percent as the Democrat challenger against U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., who won with 62.5 percent. But on Monday, less than two weeks after the final votes were counted, Cox filed to run for the Florida Senate seat opened after Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, resigned to take the helm at Florida State University.

Cox becomes the first Democrat to run for the seat. Already two Republicans in the Florida House -- Travis Hutson of Palm Coast and Doc Renuart of Ponte Vedra Beach -- have filed.

The primary will be held on Jan. 27 with the special election on April 7.

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Reports emerged on Monday that Nicolas Maduro said his regime in Venezuela is running a large spy operation in the U.S. and two Florida Republicans who have been sharp critics -- U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- are targets.

“I'm greatly honored that this despotic regime that imprisons innocent opposition leaders, denies basic human rights to all and kills students peacefully demonstrating in the streets would find me to be a thorn in its side,” Ros-Lehtinen said on Monday. “Being a target of an autocratic regime, whether it is the Castro brothers or Nicolas Maduro, is a badge of honor. The Venezuelan people endure continual violations of their human rights, suffer from a spiraling economy, and live with constant violence sanctioned by the Venezuelan regime.

“This latest episode by the Venezuelan regime is another reaffirmation that the puppeteers in Cuba continue to influence Maduro to adopt a system that denies fundamental freedoms to its people and attacks those who seek justice and liberty,” Ros-Lehtinen added. “Maduro's comrades-in-arms, the Castro brothers, have labeled me as La Loba Feroz (The Ferocious She-Wolf) so I'm honored that another thug would target me for trying to be a voice for the Venezuelan people who are currently suffering under this brutal regime. But I will not be deterred and will continue to push for sanctions for human rights violators in Venezuela.”

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U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, took aim at the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) after news emerged on Monday that it had kidnapped a Colombian general. Rubio said he supported the Colombian government ending peaces talks with FARC.

“Earlier this month, I made an official visit to Bogotá where I met with several Colombian government officials to discuss the future of the U.S.-Colombia alliance,” Rubio said on Monday. “While the U.S.-Colombia relationship has many important dimensions to it, particularly on trade, the main issue on everyone’s minds there was the future of peace talks between the Colombian government and the FARC.

“Today’s news that the FARC has kidnapped a Colombian general is a chilling reminder of why a lasting peace with this terrorist group will be extremely difficult to accomplish,” Rubio added. “Ultimately, whether the talks are renewed or not, the Colombian people will decide what the terms of any peace negotiation look like. The U.S. should support the Colombian government’s suspension of talks and recommit ourselves to ensuring that the FARC, which has terrorized the Colombian people for so long and led millions to flee to Florida and elsewhere, is defeated.”

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On Monday, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater named Michelle Dahnke as deputy CFO of the Florida Department of Financial Services. Dahnke will focus on communications.

“Michelle brings our department more than a decade of strategic communications and policy experience on a variety of issues important to the well-being of Florida families,” Atwater said. “I’m confident her expertise will advance our efforts to make our government more transparent and our entire state more consumer- and business-friendly.”

Dahnke had worked in communications for Gov. Rick Scott, the state Agency for Health Care Administration and for the Florida Department of Health.

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With Islamic State (IS) terrorists releasing a video of the beheading of American aid worker Peter Kassig, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, called for a congressional vote for military action.

“The beheading of another American over the weekend further illustrates the savagery of IS,” Nelson said on Monday. “It shows why the United States and our allies must leave no stone unturned in going after these barbarians. I hope Congress is moved to vote on legislation formally authorizing military action.”

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U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., called on President Barack Obama and the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate to pass the Keystone XL Pipeline. Rooney insisted Keystone XL was a major issue in the elections earlier this month which saw the GOP flip the Senate.

“Building the Keystone pipeline was absolutely on the ballot last week, and the American people sent a clear message – it’s time to build,” Rooney said on Friday. “Will President Obama and Harry Reid continue to ignore the American people, or will they finally say yes to jobs and energy?

“The president has had ample time and evidence to approve Keystone, including an analysis from his own State Department projecting it will support 42,100 jobs and have a minimal impact on the environment, but he has refused,” Rooney added. “Now it’s time for the Senate to follow the House’s lead and pass this bipartisan bill to boost our economy and improve our energy security.”

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After taking 4 percent in the recent Florida gubernatorial race, Libertarian Adrian Wyllie announced on Monday he will be a lobbyist for the Liberty First Network, planning to work in Tallahassee on issues.

“The Liberty First Network and I have been working toward the same goals, and fighting the same legislative battles, so this partnership is a perfect fit,” Wyllie said on Monday. “Though I may not be governor, the Legislature will still hear our voices, and will be subject to our scrutiny. I am excited to be joining this all-star team of principled and competent people.”

Wyllie will continue his efforts with the Libertarian Party as well.

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Since being elected in 2012, U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., ranks as one of the leading congressional champions of the Keystone XL Pipeline. Yoho has even compared it to the transcontinental railroad which connected America after the Civil War. No surprise, then, that Yoho cheered the House for passing the Keystone XL on Friday and urging President Barack Obama and the U.S. Senate to support it.

“This is a jobs bill, plain and simple,” Yoho said on Friday. “This Keystone XL Pipeline is projected to create over 40,000 good paying jobs. There is no reason this bipartisan legislation should have been blocked for so long. The president and Harry Reid’s Senate has been the sole reason this has not moved forward.

“Creating good paying jobs for hard-working Americans while improving the strength of our economy is my priority,” Yoho added. “I will continue to support any and all legislation that achieves this goal. It is time to put America first. I hope this bill will be passed out of the Senate quickly and signed by the president immediately.”

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From his perch as the chairman of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., weighed in on the news that the VA department fired Terry Gerigk Wolf, the Pittsburgh health-care system director who was in charge during the Legionnaires' outbreak back in 2011 and 2012 which impacted 22 veterans, killing six of them. Wolf had been on paid administrative leave since the summer after a VA internal investigation.

“Given that Wolf’s firing comes two years after the VA Pittsburgh Health-care System Legionnaires’ disease outbreak ended, it’s obvious VA had no interest in holding her accountable initially and was only driven to this point after intense congressional and media scrutiny,” Miller said. “Still, this action falls fall short of what’s needed to provide closure to the veterans and families struck by an outbreak that VA failed to stop and actively hid from the public. Though VA is finally holding someone accountable, we must also remember that the department has rewarded other central figures in the outbreak. Wolf’s boss collected a $63,000 bonus days after the inspector general attributed the outbreak to mismanagement and VA recently promoted Wolf’s deputy even though internal emails provide smoking-gun evidence he tried to hide the outbreak from the public. Though Wolf’s removal is a positive step, VA still has a lot to learn about honesty, integrity and accountability, and this action doesn’t change that fact.”

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Administrative Judge W. David Watkins gave the Department of Health's proposed rules for implementing Florida's new medical marijuana law the heave-ho Friday, calling them an invalid exercise of delegated legislative authority.

Yes, on Jan. 1 doctors can order marijuana in oil form to treat patients for seizure, but none of the five licenses authorized by the Compassionate Medical Cannabis Act of 2014 have been awarded.

The story of the judge's ruling was first reported fully by James Call in

The proposed rules for the law were challenged by Costa Farms, Plants of Ruskin and Florida Medical Cannabis Association on the grounds that DOH did not have the authority to insert a lottery in the process and expanded the pool of eligible applicants beyond what lawmakers had specified.

Read the complete story in Sunshine State News.

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Jonathan Gruber is drawing fire from U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., after a video emerged in which he said the “lack of transparency” and the “stupidity of the American voter” helped pass President Barack Obama’s federla health-care law. DeSantis wants Gruber to return federal monies he received for consulting on the law.

"Obamacare architect Jonathan Gruber's comments paint a disturbing picture of a man willing to concoct deception after deception in order to cram an unpopular health law through Congress,” DeSantis said on Thursday. “Gruber displays an appalling contempt for the American people, a contempt that is all the more troubling given that he was richly rewarded with $400,000 in taxpayer dollars for his so-called consulting services. To receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer funds in exchange for lying to the public is simply unacceptable. I call on Jonathan Gruber to return the $400,000 he has amassed as a result of his questionable conduct."

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The Heartland Institute has been named a 2014 top-rated nonprofit organization by GreatNonprofits, the leading provider of user reviews about nonprofit organizations.

In a written statement, Gwendalyn Carver, development director at The Heartland, said, “We are excited to be named a 2014 Top-Rated Nonprofit. We are proud of our accomplishments this year. We are making a difference in national debates over climate change, Common Core State Standards, replacing Obamacare, and cutting taxes and repealing unnecessary regulations. It’s wonderful to be recognized for that work!”

Heartland received the award based on the large number of positive reviews it received online from volunteers, donors, elected officials, and other audiences it serves. One reviewer wrote this:

"The Heartland Institute is an oasis in a desert. They have very creatively put together a group of creditable experts in a number of critical disciplines that can weigh in on issues that are plaguing our society. Most of the issues are created in Washington by persons that 'don’t know what they don’t know.' I am amazed by the amount of information that is assembled for publications that deal with Environment (Climate Control), Education (Core Curriculum) and Budget and Taxes (Pensions). Joe Bast and his staff put it all together for those of us that still believe that the best government is the one that governs least."

Said Perla Ni, CEO of GreatNonproits, “Savvy donors want to see the impact of their donations more than ever. People with direct experience with Heartland have voted that the organization is making a real difference.”

GreatNonprofits has been called "the leading site for donors and volunteers to find reviews and ratings of nonprofit organizations."

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On Thursday, incoming Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, named Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, as president pro tempore. The Senate will meet next week when Gardiner takes over from current Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Destin. Richter served as president pro tempore under Gaetz. 

“As a veteran of the Vietnam War, a business owner and a family man who worked his way from a bank janitor to a bank president, Garrett brings a range of personal and professional experiences to the Senate that allow him to relate to people from all walks of life and to build consensus without compromising principle,” said Gardiner on Thursday. “He has a contagious energy and a strong work ethic that will be a valuable asset as we work to build our policy agenda.”

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Calling himself the “true conservative," Palm Coast Republican Travis Hutson is moving his money from his current Florida House accounts to a Florida Senate campaign. Hutson will take on Rep. Doc Renuart, R-Ponte Vedra Beach, in a special primary on Jan. 27 to see who replaces former Sen. John Thrasher in Tallahassee.

On Thursday, Hutson announced he was moving $300,000 into his Senate campaign.

“We are excited to hit the ground running in my special election campaign for Senate District 6,” said Hutson. “I look forward to delivering the message to Northeast Florida that I am the true conservative in this race who is committed to reducing government waste and spending, improving our education system, and growing the economy and job base in Northeast Florida. I am passionate about our district, and it is important to me to help us continue to thrive, as well as enhance the future of Northeast Florida.”

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On Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott issued an order lowering costs for Lifetime Sportsman’s Licenses for Floridians 21 and younger. From Nov. 24-Dec. 31, the cost of the license for those Floridians will be lowered from $1,000 to $500.

“Our state’s natural treasures give families wonderful opportunities for both fishing and hunting from the Panhandle to the Keys,” Scott said. “This Lifetime Sportsman’s License will provide Florida’s youth with the opportunity to spend time outdoors with their families. Fishing and hunting are time-honored traditions in our state, and I encourage all Floridians to spend some time enjoying the great outdoors.”

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U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., weighed in on last week’s election results and insisted things will be better in Washington, D.C., with Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Democrats not in charge of the Senate for the next two years.

Yoho penned an op-ed over at The Hill on Wednesday, insisting voters were “tired” of President Barack Obama’s “one-sided policies and all of the dysfunction in our nation’s capital.”

“Coming to the end of my first term in office, I can tell you that, from my perspective, the American people have graded the 113th Congress and our grade is not impressive,” Yoho wrote. “I understand their frustration. However, if we take a closer look at the main cause of this dysfunction, we will find it leads to the desk of one particular senator: Harry Reid.”

But even with Republicans controlling both chambers, Yoho said the GOP has to prove itself to American voters.

“With Tuesday's results, the American people have granted complete control of Congress to the GOP,” Yoho wrote. “We have been given very short reins for two years to lead one third of government. The people have allowed us to govern but only if we can earn their trust. We can show that we are worthy of that trust again by doing what is right for America and creating results, not excuses. It's time for us to lead and regain the trust of the American people. I look forward to the task at hand.”

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On Wednesday, in the lame-duck session, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to reauthorize funding for the National Estuary Program (NEP). The bill was championed by two congressmen from Florida: Republican Bill Posey and Democrat Patrick Murphy. The two congressmen wanted federal funds to protect estuaries including the Indian River Lagoon.

“This common-sense plan will help provide critical funding for our nation’s estuaries, and make available additional funding to estuaries that are experiencing urgent and challenging ecological problems, including our own Indian River Lagoon,” Posey said on Wednesday. “I’m pleased to see this important legislation move forward in a strongly bipartisan manner.”

“It is great to see the House act swiftly on the National Estuary Program to help support the health of our waterways,” Murphy said. “The Treasure Coast will directly benefit because this bill includes our bipartisan proposal to prioritize the Indian River Lagoon. With the health of our economy directly tied to our waterways, this common-sense measure is well-deserving of the overwhelming bipartisan support it received today, and I hope that the Senate quickly follows suit.”

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U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, talked immigration problems, economic ties and combating drugs when he met Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández on Wednesday.

“A strong U.S.-Honduras alliance is key to addressing some of the most pressing security threats of our hemisphere,” said Rubio. “Working together to expand cooperation and strengthen our efforts to stop illicit human, drug and weapon trafficking is critical to both America’s security and that of Latin America.

“Given the recent wave of unaccompanied children, it should be clear to all that a peaceful, democratic and prosperous Honduras is critical to the security and future of our hemisphere,” Rubio added. “To end the hopelessness that contributes to illegal immigration, we must work together to address the crushing poverty and deadly violence that exists in Honduras, in addition to making sure the Honduran people do not mistake perceived ‘ambiguities’ in our immigration policies as incentives to risk their lives coming to the U.S. illegally. I look forward to improving U.S.-Honduras relations as we work toward achieving lasting peace and stability in the region.”

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U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., unveiled the Contain Ebola and Stop the Epidemic (CEASE) Act on Wednesday.

Ross's bill would give the administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) the ability to stop planes landing with passengers from nations impacted by Ebola. The proposal would also stop consular officers from issuing visas to those who come from Ebola-impacted nations or traveled through them. The travel and visa bans would be lifted when the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) determine the countries are free of Ebola.

“Now that the United States is free of the Ebola virus disease, we must begin implementing a process that will keep our country safe from a potential future outbreak,” Ross said on Wednesday. “Craig Spencer, a doctor who helped treat Ebola patients in West Africa, returned home to New York to find he had become sick with the virus. Spencer was released from the hospital this week, but President Obama’s Ebola czar, Ron Klain, told MSNBC, ‘we’re going to see occasional additional cases of Ebola in our country. This is not the last one.’ Klain’s statement does not provide my constituents and I comfort.

“If passed, I believe banning flights and banning the issuance of visas to those traveling from countries experiencing an Ebola epidemic will reduce the threat of an outbreak within our borders,” Ross added. “The CEASE Act will implement common-sense safeguards to protect American citizens from this deadly virus. Ebola is still devastating areas of Africa, especially in both Guinea and Sierra Leone, which is why we must keep our guard up. Until the CDC can ascertain that Ebola has been contained and eradicated overseas, we must be vigilant in keeping Americans safe by being proactive instead of reactive.”

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Florida House Democratic Leader-designate Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, has announced that Rep. Mia Jones , D-Jacksonville, will be the Democratic leader pro tempore for the 2015-16 legislative session. 

“Mia has proven herself with consistent ability. She’s loyal to the people she represents," said Pafford. "She’s taken the time and put in the hard work to know the issues very well,” Pafford said. “Her commitment to improve the health of every Floridian, especially its youngest people, is a credit to Mia and a huge benefit to Democrats in the House of Representatives. All of us are lucky she’ll be back as leader pro tem.”

Jones has represented HD 14 since 2008 and previously served as the Democratic leader pro tempore from 2013-14. 

“I look forward to working with Mark to solidify the caucus as one body, to recognize the importance of standing as one, and fighting as one, for the things we believe in,” Jones said. “Now it really becomes a greater responsibility to stand united as Democrats to fight for what’s most important to us.”

The House Democratic Caucus will convene at 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 17, to elect its leader. The elected leader submits his or her nominee for Democratic leader pro tempore for approval of the caucus. 
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Jacksonville attorney Paul Renner has filed to run for the Florida House seat vacated by Rep. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast. Hutson is running for the Senate seat vacated by former Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.

Renner, a Navy veteran, lost to Jay Fant by two votes in the Republican primary back in August for a House seat representing parts of Duval County. Renner had the support of Thrasher and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., against Fant.

Tea party leader Derek Hankerson, who lost to Thrasher in a primary in August, has told the media that he will run for the House seat vacated by Hutson.

Earlier this week, businessman Donald O’Brien, who chaired the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce, filed to run for the seat.

Retired Navy Capt. Dave Sullivan, the chairman of the Flagler County Republican Executive Committee, has expressed interest in running for the seat which represents all of Flagler County and parts of St. Johns and Volusia counties. The special primary has been set for Jan. 27, 2015, with the special election to be held April 7.

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Prominent Flagler County businessman Donald O’Brien became the first candidate to file in the special election to replace state Rep. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, submitting his paperwork to Tallahassee this week. Hutson is running for the Senate seat vacated by former Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.

O’Brien has been in Palm Coast since 1990. Currently with Hayward Brown, O’Brien has long been active in the area, working with Barnett Bank in Volusia and Flagler counties before serving as a senior VP and CFO with Cypress Bank which was based out of Palm Coast. O’Brien also was a co-owner of Coast Title Insurance Agency. Still active with the Flagler County Chamber of Commerce, O’Brien is a previous chairman of the group.

While he is the first candidate to file for the seat, O’Brien could soon have company. Retired Navy Cpt. Dave Sullivan, the chairman of the Flagler County Republican Executive Committee, has expressed interest in running for the seat which represents all of Flagler County and parts of St. Johns and Volusia counties. The special primary has been set for Jan. 27, 2015, with the special election to be held April 7.

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As he readies to take the gavel this month, incoming Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, continues to build his team.

On Wednesday, Crisafulli named Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, as deputy majority leader and whip, serving under incoming House Majority Leader Dana Young, R-Tampa.

“With a new Republican supermajority in the Florida House of Representatives, the deputy majority leader/whip will have a critical leadership role in the Florida House,” Crisafulli said on Wednesday. “I can think of no better person to fill this important position than Rep. Jim Boyd.

“Rep. Boyd has earned the respect of Republican and Democrat members alike,” Crisafulli continued. “He has proven himself as a great leader and someone who can effectively communicate the conservative principles and beliefs we both share. He is someone I trust and someone that I rely on for counsel. I firmly believe there is no one better suited to serve as whip and I look forward to working with him over the next two years.”

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A writer for one of the leading conservative outlets insists U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., ranks as the GOP’s best hope to pick up the White House in 2016.

Cliff Smith over at the American Spectator argues Rubio matches up well against former U.S. Sec. of State Hillary Clinton, noting his youth and experience on foreign policy match up well against her.

Smith writes:

The word is that Florida Senator Marco Rubio will decide “within weeks” whether or not to seek the presidency. The dynamic young senator has been talked up as a potential presidential candidate ever since Florida voters sent him to Washington. However, if prominent pundits are to be believed, his White House prospects have been on a roller coaster: down when he voted for an immigration reform bill that angered some conservatives, up when he outlined an innovative new approach to dealing with poverty, and so on. Yet Rubio remains what he always has been: a top-tier candidate with a few vulnerabilities but numerous strengths that could make him the best candidate in 2016.

Rubio’s pluses are fairly obvious. He’s young — only 45 by election day — not to mention handsome. He hails from one of the largest swing-states in the country. As a Hispanic, he’s part of the fastest growing ethnic group in America. He is also one of the most dynamic speakers in politics today in either party, and he has an inspiring rags-to-riches story, as the son of immigrants who made their living as a bartender and a maid. This sort of optimistic, positive, everyman demeanor has great appeal to swing-voters, as Senator-elect Cory Gardner demonstrated quite clearly in his nearly perfect takedown of soon-to-be ex-Senator Mark Udall.

The article can be read here.


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After placing second behind U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in the battle for the Republican presidential nomination, former Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., moved to the Florida Panhandle. Now that he is looking to run again in 2016, Huckabee intends to keep his operations based out of Arkansas but Florida will be playing a role in his efforts.

The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Huckabee’s team is looking at office space in Little Rock. Huckabee and close advisers will be hunkering down for strategy meetings in both Arkansas and Destin in the weeks to come as they look ahead to 2016.

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On Wednesday, Florida TaxWatch released a report showcasing data from the Tax Foundation's 2015 Business Tax Climate Index which showed Florida had the fifth best business climate in the country, ahead of other large states.

"Florida's tax structure is one of the many factors that makes Florida a good place to do business," said Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, on Monday. "However, there is always room for improvement. Instead of focusing on Florida's fifth-place ranking, policymakers should look at where they can make needed reforms to help welcome additional capital, more jobs, and further economic growth to the Sunshine State."

Florida’s high ranking comes in part due to not having a state income tax but Florida TaxWatch staff insist the Sunshine State can do more by cutting sales, excise, communications and other taxes.

"Other states are taking significant steps to improve their business tax climate," said Kurt Wenner, the vice president of tax research for Florida TaxWatch. "Florida lawmakers have an opportunity to use the tax ranking information to address real tax reform in our state, such as reducing or eliminating the sales tax on commercial leases, reducing the communications services tax, eliminating the tangible personal property tax, and collecting lawfully owed sales and use taxes on Internet purchases."

The Florida TaxWatch report can be read here.

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The Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) came out against President Barack Obama’s call for Internet neutrality on Tuesday.

“AIF believes the action by President Obama to call on the Federal Communications Commission to aggressively regulate Internet services is not in the best interest of Florida businesses and the economy,” said former U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, the president and CEO of AIF, on Tuesday. “While we share the same beliefs in terms of an open and transparent Internet, AIF believes the Internet has flourished with little regulation to date and believes the federal government should not try to micromanage Internet access.

“AIF encourages the FCC not to make massive unilateral changes to Internet regulation that would disrupt the free-market benefits, including increasing investments and furthering technological advances,” Feeney added.

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Roll Call released its list of the best congressional campaigns of the 2014 elections on Monday and gave high marks to Democrat Gwen Graham who defeated U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., last week.

Roll Call wrote the following about Graham's campaign:

She was House Democrats’ best recruit of the cycle -- a fundraising machine who went on television 20 weeks before Election Day in the 2nd District. Even more to her credit, Graham won the Florida Panhandle in a wave year for Republicans.

Graham had help from her father, former Sen. Bob Graham, in her underdog bid to unseat Republican Rep. Steve Southerland II. But she also had a formidable lieutenant running her campaign, Julia Gill Woodward.

For example, ahead of an early fall debate, the event organizer denied Woodward’s request for reserved seating on the front row. So she asked 28 staffers and volunteers to arrive 3 hours before the debate doors opened. At the debate, Southerland was forced to stare at an entire front row of Graham loyalists, including Bob Graham and former first lady Adele Graham.

The entire list can be read here.

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On Monday, the day before Veterans Day, U.S. VA Secretary Bob McDonald announced plans for a massive reorganization of the department as it tries to restore confidence after reports emerged that VA hospitals across the nation altered wait lists. In Phoenix, where VA medical centers altered wait lists to show less of a backlog for treatment, 40 veterans died waiting for medical care.

McDonald told CNN on Monday that the department had already disciplined 5,600 employees and some of them would be fired. McDonald also promised more attention to customer service and plans to cut down on wait times.

"This is going to be the largest reorganization of the Department of Veterans Affairs since its establishment," McDonald told CNN on Monday.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., the chairman of the U.S. House Veterans Affairs Committee, sounded a skeptical note on Monday.

“New plans, initiatives and organizational structures are all well and good, but they will not produce their intended results until VA rids itself of the employees who have shaken veterans’ trust in the system,” Miller said. “So far VA hasn’t done that – as evidenced by the fact that the majority of those who caused the VA scandal are still on the department payroll. I’m disappointed that instead of fully embracing the new firing authorities Congress and President Obama gave VA as part of the Veterans Access, Choice and Accountability Act, the department has shied away from them and even added more bureaucratic red tape such as additional appeals and interminable stints on paid leave. No one doubts that reforming VA is a tough job, but getting rid of failed executives should be the easiest part – not the most difficult.”

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From his perch on the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., came out swinging at President Barack Obama’s call for Internet neutrality on Monday.

“The Internet is one of the greatest economic stories in all of history, one whose openness has given people unprecedented opportunities to innovate and create jobs,” Rubio said on Monday. “President Obama’s announced support for more government regulation of the Internet threatens to restrict Internet growth and increase costs on Internet users. Furthermore, applying heavy-handed Title II classification to Internet service sends the wrong message to international stakeholders that look to the United States for leadership in Internet governance, and undermines our support for an open Internet, free of government intervention.

“Instead of reclassifying Internet service under Title II of the Telecommunications Act, the FCC should allow Congress to update this law,” Rubio added. “I believe it should be a top priority of the new Congress to provide clarity on the FCC’s role in the modern communications landscape.”

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