Sunshine State News Blogs

A new poll shows Amendment 2, a proposed Constitution amendment to expand medical marijuana use in Florida, is close to passing. A poll from the Florida Chamber of Commerce unveiled on Monday finds 58 percent of those surveyed back Amendment 2 while 36 percent oppose it. The amendment needs 60 percent support in the November ballot to pass.

The poll of 806 likely voters was taken by Cherry Communications for the Florida Chamber on June 11 and had a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent.

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A new poll from the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Political Institute finds Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., ahead of former Gov. Charlie Crist, his leading Democratic opponent.

The poll shows Scott ahead with 41 percent, Crist right behind him with 38 percent and Libertarian Adrian Wyllie taking 4 percent.

The poll finds 43 percent of those surveyed think Florida is heading in the right direction and 41 percent think the Sunshine State is going the wrong way and that’s helping Scott. A majority -- 52 percent -- of those surveyed approve of Scott while 42 percent disapprove of him. While 43 percent see Scott as unfavorable, 45 percent see him as favorable.

Crist is upside down in the poll with 45 percent seeing him as unfavorable and 41 percent viewing him in a favorable light.

“I’ve been saying for a long time the voters of Florida appreciate leadership and the Florida Chamber’s poll is an indicator voters believe our state is headed in the right direction again,” said Mark Wilson, the president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, on Monday. “Gov. Rick Scott’s favorability numbers are increasing, voters recognize more jobs and opportunities are being created for Floridians and they are feeling more confident.”

The poll of 806 likely voters was taken by Cherry Communications for the Florida Chamber on June 11 and had a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent.
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From his perch on the Foreign Affairs Committee, U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., teamed up with liberal stalwart U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., to add an amendment to the Department of Defense (DOD) Appropriations Act to ensure federal funds would not go to back Man-Portable Air-Defense Systems (MANPADS) for Syrian rebels.

“I would like to thank Rep. Conyers for joining me, in a bipartisan effort, to keep U.S. weapons and equipment out of the hands of Syrian rebels,” Yoho said on Friday. “With so many combatants involved in that conflict, sending rebels easily concealed shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles could come back to bite us. Distributing these weapons to Syrian rebels only increases the chances that these weapons will end up in the wrong hands and be used against Americans in the region. This amendment shows that members from both parties can come together for the good of America and our troops.

“In addition to our amendment, the defense bill we supported today funds key readiness programs, authorizes pay raises for military personnel, maintains 100 percent of troop housing costs, and provides medical care for our soldiers, their families, and retirees,” Yoho added.

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The Florida Medical Association PAC (FMA PAC) announced on Monday it was backing former state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff’s bid to return to Tallahassee.

“Former state Rep. and state Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff has proven time and time again her strong support of the issues and initiatives backed by the Florida Medical Association,” said Dr. Ralph Nobo, the resident of the FMA PAC. “She is a friend of medicine and we are thrilled to support her candidacy and look forward to having her back in Tallahassee.”

“It’s an honor and privilege to have received the support of physicians throughout the state of Florida,” said Bogdanoff. “I believe it is imperative that doctors remain in charge of patient care, and I will always support policies that place the patient’s health above all else.”

Bogdanoff is running for the Republican nomination to face Sen. Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, and she’ll face businessman and philanthropist Joseph “JB” Bensmihen in the primary. If she wins, Bogdanoff is expected to support Clearwater Republican Sen. Jack Latvala's Senate presidential ambitions. Sachs beat Bogdanoff 53 percent to 47 percent in 2012.
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Let's Get To Work, a group with ties to Gov. Rick Scott, unveiled a new ad hitting former Gov. Charlie Crist on education on Monday. Crist is the favorite for the Democratic nomination to challenge Scott despite spending most of his political life as a Republican.

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“Charlie doesn’t want to talk about what happened four years ago: slashing education funding, skyrocketing tuition, and teachers getting laid off,” said Leslie Dougher, the chairwoman of the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), on Monday. “He is so desperate to run away from his failed record that he’ll say and do just about anything to avoid talking about it.”

The ad starts hitting the airwaves on Tuesday.
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Pointing to a study from the Manhattan Institute, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said on Thursday that President Barack Obama’s federal health-care law has hurt Florida.

“The report by the Manhattan Institute proves what many American families feared would happen under Obamacare,” Diaz-Balart said. “Not only are you unable to keep your health care plans and doctors of choice, but you are seeing your premiums skyrocket. Whether it’s a 25 percent increase for a 40-year-old woman, or a 65 percent for a 27-year-old man, the president’s health care plan is hurting the wallets of hard-working American taxpayers. I will continue to work for Floridians’ access to the care they need, from the doctors they choose, at a price they can afford.”
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May's job numbers and unemployment rate will be released on Friday.

In April, Florida had an unemployment rate of 6.2 percent, which is below the national unemployment rate of 6.3 percent.

Florida gained 34,000 jobs in April, putting it in third place for the highest number of jobs created behind Texas and California.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.
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Republicans in the U.S. House caucused on Thursday and chose U.S. Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., to replace U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., as House majority leader. They also selected U.S. Rep. Steve Scalise, R-La., to replace McCarthy as GOP whip.

U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., weighed in on Thursday after the vote and said he backed U.S. Rep. Raul Labrador, R-Ind., over McCarthy but did back Scalise. Yoho also tried unsuccessfully to move the vote back a week.

“Yesterday in the House Republican conference I introduced a motion to delay the vote for the majority leader of the Republican Party for one week,” Yoho said after the vote. “I did this so we would be able to do our due diligence and have the needed time to vet the candidates. This would also allow time for other members to enter the race and campaign. My motion was not accepted and the vote was held today. This is a critical vote not just for the Republican conference in Congress but also for the direction of the Republican Party and our nation. This is why I believed we should have given more people more time to put their names forward for the position.
 
“The next majority leader stands a good chance to be the next speaker of the House,” Yoho added. “Given the importance of this vote today, we should have given it more time. The direction of our party and our nation will not improve until we have leadership that has a strong vision for America. Therefore, I supported Raul Labrador for majority leader and Steve Scalise for majority whip.”

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The Republican Party of Florida filed its third ethics complaint against former Gov. Charlie Crist on Thursday, this time alleging that Crist tapped a partner at Morgan & Morgan to the Judicial Nominating Committee (JNC) in an apparent exchange for a position at the Orlando-based law firm.

The complaint alleges that Crist appointed Morgan & Morgan partner Joseph Linnehan to the JNC after opening talks to join the law firm. The vacancy was left open for over five months before Linnehan was chosen by then-Gov. Crist to take over. 

“Less than two weeks after the appointment of Mr. Linnehan, Mr. Crist became employed with Morgan & Morgan,” the complaint reads. “That fact that Mr. Crist was a public officer during this period of time is without question. At some point, Mr. Crist apparently received a promise of future employment with Morgan & Morgan. It is also apparent that Mr. Crist may have received a special privilege or benefit for himself from Morgan & Morgan.”

Thursday's complaint echoes accusations made by former Crist ally and Ponzi schemer Scott Rothstein, who says Crist sold judgeships in return for political contributions. 

Crist's campaign team dashed the complaint, calling it "absurd."

The camp said: "It doesn’t get more ironic than Rick Scott, after pleading the Fifth 75 times to avoid going to jail and leading one of the largest fraud schemes in the history of the U.S., directing his staff to file an absurd ethics complaint against Charlie Crist, the People’s Governor." 
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The Florida Retail Federation (FRF) named Rep. Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, as its “Legislator of the Year” in the House on Thursday for his work on sales tax holidays and e-fairness.

“It is our honor for us to recognize Rep. Workman for his leadership and work in the House on behalf of Florida’s taxpayers and small businesses,” said Rick McAllister, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation. “As the chairman of the Finance and Tax Subcommittee, Rep. Workman has served as a principled steward of our state’s finances, and we look forward to working with him in future sessions.”
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The Florida Retail Federation (FRF) named Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Brooksville, as its “Legislator of the Year” in the Senate on Thursday.

“As a small-business owner himself, Sen. Simpson has distinguished himself with his understanding and commitment to issues important to Florida’s retailers,” said Rick McAllister, president and CEO of the FRF. “Sen. Simpson is a tireless public servant who is willing and able to tackle big statewide problems while never losing sight of the needs of his constituents. We are very proud to recognize him for his leadership.”

The FRF praised Simpson’s record on Florida’s Petroleum Cleanup Program, aiding small business and trying to create a statewide process on wage disputes.
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U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., took to the floor of Congress on Wednesday, insisting the measure would help improve national defense and help the First Coast’s military community. Crenshaw said the following in his speech:

“When you look at the world today, it certainly hasn’t gotten any smaller. It certainly hasn’t gotten any safer. But, I think this bill balances the priorities that we need to balance and focuses on being able to meet the many, many challenges that we face in terms of our national security.

“I consider it an honor to serve on the subcommittee because when I read the Constitution, it teaches me that the No. 1 responsibility of the federal government is to protect American lives. And, the best way to keep America safe is to keep America strong, and I think this bill does that. We make sure that we’re not making any short-term budget decisions that would be easy to make in these difficult times.

“The Navy decided that they would like to deactivate 11 Navy ships. That’s one half of our cruiser fleet. We don’t need less ships. We need more ships, and I’m proud that the subcommittee has worked out a compromise where these ships will be modernized. Their life will be extended, and they’ll continue to do the work they need to do around the globe.

“The people I represent back in Jacksonville, Fla., care greatly about national security. They care about the men and women in uniform, and they care about the men and women who work so hard to make sure the ships are repaired and the planes are flying in the sky.

“And, the other thing I wanted to point out is, in terms of short-sighted budget-driven decisions, is that there was an effort to say there’s not enough money to refuel the USS George Washington. That’s one or our nuclear carriers. It has 25 years left of useful life if we spend the money to refuel that. It will also help us comply with the law, that I helped write eight years ago, that says you have to have 11 aircraft carriers unless Congress says otherwise.

“And finally, when I look at the airplanes, the new E-2D Hawkeye -- the Advanced Hawkeye – these planes are relatively new, but they’re incredibly important to our national security. The Poseidon, the P-8 surveillance planes – again relatively new – but important to our national defense.”

After the speech, Crenshaw doubled down on his support of the bill.

“Plain and simple: We live in dangerous times, and now is not the time to cut back our military,” said Crenshaw. “My bottom line is to make sure our men and women in uniform have what they need to get the job done wherever they serve, whenever they serve. Congress is also duty-bound to make sure that our military and their families receive the benefits they have earned. This defense bill accomplishes these goals and deserves immediate passage by the House and the Senate.”
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Let's Get To Work, a group with ties to Gov. Rick Scott, looked to channel into the World Cup soccer tournament in a new radio ad contrasting their candidate’s record on jobs to former Gov. Charlie Crist’s, the favorite for the Democratic nomination to challenge the governor. On Thursday, Let’s Get to Work released an ad in Spanish hitting Crist on jobs and playing up soccer themes.

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The translation of the ad is as follows:

Announcer 1: We are at the beginning of this extremely important match for Florida.

Announcer 2: On one end, Charlie Crist, who abandoned us as governor when things got difficult. On the other end the current governor, Rick Scott, who keeps working to get the state's economy on the right track.

Announcer 1  Crist is issued a red card … (Whistle blows) … for worrying more about his political future than about us. With Crist, 800,000 jobs were lost in Florida. Here comes Rick Scott through the center, focused on fixing the mess Crist left. He cuts taxes 40 times for Floridians! Scott advances and scores a GOALLLLLLLLLLLL!!

Announcer 2: 600,000 jobs created in the private sector under Scott in only three and a half years. The highlights of this match. Charlie Crist, 800,000 private-sector jobs lost. Rick Scott, 600,000 private-sector jobs created.

Announcer 1: With Rick Scott, let's keep working!



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From his seat on the U.S. House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., pressed  Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Director Richard Cordray on federal loan regulations.

“Now there is a 17 billion-dollar business out there in consumer loans and small dollar credit,” Ross said. “Operation Choke Point, if it were to eliminate due to reputational risk this particular supply, if you will, the demand will remain -- what will happen to those? What will happen to those consumers who need this particular market niche?"

"What we're working on right now is potential regulations that you and I just discussed for the industry,” Cordray replied. “That is not consistent with wiping out the industry, it's regulations to make sure that the industry is working in a pro-consumer fashion. That's our intent. I have recognized and acknowledged that demand for small dollar credit. People have that demand."

"And if they don't have it in a regulated fashion they're going to get it in a black market fashion, in a way that is more harmful to the consumer," Ross said.

 "I agree with you on that," Cordray replied.
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Newly-qualified Republican gubernatorial primary candidate Yinka Adeshina's campaign finance reports raised major red flags about the legitimacy of contributions on Wednesday after geo-mapping found many of her donors posted addresses of empty fields, shopping plazas and even a Best Buy.

After taking a closer look at Adeshina's list of contributors as indicated on her campaign finance report, documents show over 30 of her donors -- some of whom donated $3,000 to her campaign -- posted addresses from a shopping plaza in Melbourne.

Some contributors' addresses don't even show up on  maps -- like one Destin address. Others, including a Tallahassee address near Florida State University, show an empty field. Other addresses, when mapped, showed Chinese restaurants or were fake addresses.

Sunshine State News contacted the number on Adeshina's website to discuss the discrepancies, but it appears it is not a working number.
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New Jersey-based Quest Diagnostics has opened a new facility in Tampa to enhance and extend customer services for health-care clients and employees throughout the United States, according to a press release from Gov. Rick Scott's office.

The project will create a capital investment of $9.3 million and up to 350 jobs, which will consist of customer service, logistics and human resources.

Quest operates full-service clinical laboratories in various locations throughout the state, including Tampa, Miramar and Orlando. Other dermatological, pathology-focused labs and offices, and dozens of patient service centers can also be found across Florida. 

Quest's new Tampa facility will include customer service and certain logistics operations for Quest’s U.S. operations, as well as a human resources-shared services center supporting the company’s employees. 

“With this new center, Quest deepens our commitment to physicians, patients and the local community in Tampa and all of Florida,” said James E. Davis, senior vice president of operations at Quest Diagnostics. “This new center will elevate Quest’s customer services to the next level of responsiveness and quality. It reflects our commitment to delivering a superior customer experience and providing diagnostic insights that will help people lead healthier lives.”

Gov. Scott applauded the center's opening in Tampa as good news for Floridians. 

“Quest Diagnostics’ investment in the Tampa Bay region is great news for Florida families," he said. 'These 350 new jobs will mean more Floridians will be able to provide for their family and live the American dream." 

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U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., called for Ahmed Abu Khatallah, the alleged mastermind behind the Benghazi attacks which killed four Americans including Ambassador Christopher Stevens, to be tried by military tribunal instead of in civilian court.

“Foreign terrorists who attack the United States should be treated as enemy combatants, not common criminals,” Buchanan said on Wednesday. “By no means should Abu Khatallah be entitled to the same rights as an American citizen. He should be immediately transferred to the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he can be interrogated, prosecuted and tried in military court.”

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Opponents of Amendment 2, a medical marijuana proposal, looked to Colorado on Wednesday, insisting that the state’s relaxed marijuana laws have led to more children experimenting with the drug.

“This is the sad reality that we are seeing in all states that have passed these measures,” said Calvina Fay, the director of the Drug Free America Foundation which opposes Amendment 2. “They use people who suffer with debilitating cancer or other conditions as a Trojan horse to pass these broad measures, and inevitably these powerful pot products end up in kids’ hands.

“We are unleashing the Wild West of incredibly potent marijuana and not providing the sheriffs to oversee it,” Fay added. “This is a canary in a coal mine for Florida’s parents and school officials; they need to heed these warnings from Colorado.”

Opponents of Amendment 2 insisted the proposal does not have any age restrictions and will allow children greater access to marijuana.  

“Amendment 2 is full of loopholes, including no age restrictions, which may allow youth to easily obtain marijuana without parental consent,” said Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd on Wednesday.
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Count U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., as a supporter of President Barack Obama’s decision to send 275 troops into Iraq to defend the American embassy.

“We’re sending an additional 275 troops to Baghdad to protect our embassy,” Nelson said on Tuesday. “That’s a good thing. We’re going to send a carrier and an amphibious transport ship into the Persian Gulf in case we have to evacuate those Americans. And in the meantime, we’re going to try to work with our allies to stop the sectarian violence that’s about to blow Iraq apart.”
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The Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) took aim at former Gov. Charlie Crist with a new website urging him to publicly release his tax returns.

Earlier in the week, Gov. Rick Scott released three years of tax returns for 2010, 2011 and 2012. The website counts down time since the governor asked Crist to do the same. 

"If Charlie Crist cares about transparency he will release his and his wife's returns,” said Susan Hepworth, a spokeswoman for the RPOF, on Wednesday. "But, so far he doesn't care and he hasn't provided Floridians with the transparency they deserve. Now, only time will tell. The clock is ticking."

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Let’s Get to Work, a group tied to Gov. Rick Scott, launched a new television ad on Wednesday. The new ad focuses on former Gov. Charlie Crist, the favorite for the Democratic nomination despite spending most of his political life as a Republican, accusing the former governor of raising tuition during his time as governor.

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"Charlie Crist consistently raised tuition as governor, even allowing it to increase up to 15 percent every single year,” said Leslie Dougher, the chairwoman of the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), on Wednesday. “He even said it was the right thing to do. Governor Scott knows that making it harder for Floridians to get a college degree is never the right thing, which is why he reversed Crist’s 15 percent tuition increase and has cut the cost of a college prepaid plan by almost $20,000.”

Let’s Get to Work is putting $2 million behind the ad which hits the airwaves on Friday.
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U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., announced on Tuesday he is backing U.S. Rep. Raúl Labrador, R-Idaho, to replace U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., as U.S. House majority leader.

"Raúl Labrador is a conservative reformer who will stand for liberty and challenge Washington sacred cows,” DeSantis said. “He is also a skilled communicator who is capable of articulating limited government principles to a broad cross-section of Americans. I am happy to support a change agent like Raúl for the position of House majority leader."
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Gov. Rick Scott signed a law on Tuesday to overhaul the juvenile justice system with the aim of maintaining public safety. HB 7055 aims to codify principles and reform efforts which have contributed to lower juvenile recidivism rates in Florida. 

On top of signing the bill, Gov. Scott also announced Christy Daly will become the interim secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice following Secretary Wansley Walters’ retirement later this month.

Daly has held various leadership positions in the DJJ over the last few years, serving as the deputy secretary, chief of staff, legislative director, and the external affairs director. 

“I am proud to sign this bill today that emphasizes prevention services and trauma informed care, both of which will help us continue the recent success of the department that has driven delinquency rates down to the lowest levels in 30 years," said Scott on the bill. 

“I am honored and humbled that Gov. Scott has entrusted me to lead this agency and continue the reforms he launched 3 1/2 years ago," said Deputy Sec. Christy Daly. "DJJ is an agency of committed staff who work tirelessly every day to better the lives of children and families while keeping communities safe. I am proud of the significant strides we have made and look forward to continuing Sec. Walters’ vision of a national model for juvenile justice.”

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Former Florida Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich announced on Tuesday that she has qualified to make the gubernatorial primary ballot in August. Rich will take on former Gov. Charlie Crist, who qualified on Monday.

“It's official, I qualified to be on the ballot for the Florida governor's race!" Rich announced on Tuesday afternoon. “I was surrounded by friends and supporters in Tallahassee this morning when I filed to qualify to run as a Democrat for governor of Florida. Today, I reaffirm my commitment to this race and my commitment to Florida’s voters.”
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With American forces capturing Ahmed Abu Khattala, who is suspected of masterminding the attacks on the embassy in Benghazi, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he should be taken to Guantanamo Bay.

“It is long overdue that justice be delivered to the terrorists who conducted the attacks of Sept. 11, 2012, against U.S. diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya and killed four Americans. The capture of Ahmed Abu Khattala is welcome news, and a testament to the bravery and skill of U.S. special forces and the FBI,” Rubio said on Tuesday. “The Obama administration should immediately transfer him to the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay for detention and interrogation. In order to locate all individuals associated with the attacks that led to the deaths of four Americans, we need intelligence. That intelligence is often obtained through an interrogation process.

“At times, this administration has been more interested in the politics of the war on terrorism than the execution of it, and we have not had an articulable detention policy in six years,” Rubio added. “I look forward to hearing from the administration how they plan to obtain information from Ahmed Abu Khattala, where they intend to detain him, and what the next steps are for going after those responsible for these attacks. America remains at war and a return to the failed law enforcement approach of the 1990s is not an adequate response to the very real threats we face.”

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From his perch on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016, continues to criticize Russia’s actions against Ukraine. On Monday, Rubio called for additional sanctions imposed on Russia and giving more support to Ukraine.

“The tragic events of recent days show once again that Russia continues to violate Ukraine’s sovereignty by supporting separatist forces with increasingly sophisticated weapons, and now tanks. We cannot continue to stand idly by in the face of this Russian aggression,” Rubio said on Monday. “I call on the Obama administration to immediately impose sectoral sanctions on Russia targeting the financial services, energy, defense, metals, and mining sectors, among others, and work with our European allies to do the same. We also need to be more responsive to Ukraine’s requests for assistance, including lethal support that addresses the needs of their security forces.

“More than six weeks ago, I joined my colleagues in introducing S 2277, The Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014, which would impose significant sanctions on the Putin regime and provide support to our European allies and partners, including Ukraine,” Rubio added. “I urge my colleagues to support this bill or offer their own alternatives as soon as possible so that Russia’s escalation of the situation in Ukraine does not go unanswered.

“President Putin continues to test the United States and he is not paying a price for doing so,” Rubio concluded.
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Pro-life PAC Susan B. Anthony (SBA) List Candidate Fund announced it was backing businessman Curt Clawson in the special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., in Congress. Clawson is the Republican nominee in the race.

“As the next congressman representing Florida’s 19th District, Curt Clawson will proudly stand up for unborn children and their mothers,” said SBA List Candidate Fund President Marjorie Dannenfelser on Tuesday. “A man of great intellectual depth, proven leadership ability, and commitment to the lives of women and children, I believe Curt Clawson will emerge as one of the brightest stars of the next Congress. Clawson’s opponent has close ties to EMILY’s List and NOW, both pro-abortion groups that oppose a compassion limit on late abortion. For pro-life, pro-woman voters in Florida’s 19th Congressional District, Curt Clawson is the clear choice.”

Clawson takes on Democrat April Freeman and Libertarian Rey Netherwood in the election next Tuesday.
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Gov. Rick Scott and former Gov. Charlie Crist released their own personal finance reports Monday evening, revealing both their net worths and personal investments. 

"For the purposes of qualifying as a candidate for re-election, I have disclosed my financial assets today," said Scott. "However, before that and immediately after filing, these assets were under the management of an independent financial professional in a blind trust in order to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest."

Scott released three years' worth of joint tax returns filed by him and his wife, Ann. The returns indicated he earned $9.3 million in 2010, $80.3 million in 2011, and $8.7 million in 2012. In addition, Scott revealed a net worth of over $132 million.

The governor invited Crist to do the same and disclose his own tax returns.

When qualifying for the ballot, Crist disclosed a net worth of $1.25 million, earning $712,000 in income last year. Over $296,000 of his income was received from law firm Morgan & Morgan. 

Crist has not yet responded to Scott's comments about his tax returns.
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U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., weighed in on Monday night as the Castro regime cracked down on democracy activists. The South Florida congressman called for increasing sanctions in response.

"The Castro regime has once again brutally arrested pro-democracy activist Jorge Luis Garcia Perez ‘Antunez,’ and his wife and fellow activist, Yris Perez,” Diaz-Balart said. “Repression in Cuba has increased exponentially despite repeated attempts from the Obama administration to appease the regime with relaxed sanctions and travel visas to Castro operatives. With the arrests of these and other courageous pro-democracy activists, and the unjustifiable imprisonment of U.S. aid worker Alan Gross, we must tighten sanctions against the Castro dictatorship by eliminating so-called ‘people-to-people’ travel, strictly enforcing current sanctions with maximum penalties, and prohibiting visas to those who help the regime inflict human rights abuses.

“I am calling on other pro-democracy advocates, human rights organizations, and our friends in the international community to condemn these arrests and call for immediate consequences to the brutal Castro regime,” Diaz-Balart added. “We cannot remain silent in the face of such egregious human rights abuses.”
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Two Republicans representing South Florida in Congress -- U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen -- met with leaders from the Miami VA Healthcare System on Monday. In recent weeks, the VA medical facilities have been under fire after reports of altered wait lists and other problems, including long wait times.

“The reports that numerous Veterans Affairs clinics have cooked the books and systematically disregarded the health care needs of our veterans is a disgrace and a disservice to the great men and women who have served this country,” Diaz-Balart said on Monday. “We called this meeting today with the Miami VA to discuss the personal reports of veterans in South Florida and to see what is being done to correct these failures. It is imperative that the Miami VA quickly address the delays and incompetence that have plagued the hospital for years. I will do everything I can to make sure the VA is held accountable for their actions and that they work to fix these issues moving forward.”

“The Miami VA is in desperate need of reform,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “The tragic tales of negligence on the part of the VA staff and administration have caused many of us to question the processes and procedures used, in addition to what appears to be nonexistent discipline. No veteran or patient of any hospital or rehab facility should be faced with an indifferent staff or incompetent administration. Those who sacrificed so much for our nation should be treated with no less than the respect, dignity, and excellent medical care that they have earned and deserve.”

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