Sunshine State News Blogs

The Department of Children and Families (DCF) announced Tuesday that Janice Thomas would be taking over as assistant secretary for programs, overseeing family safety, child welfare, adult protection, child care, domestic violence and homelessness.

“Ms. Thomas has been a valuable member of the DCF team for over three decades. We are thrilled she has accepted our offer to lead this significant division of the department,” Interim Secretary Esther Jacobo said. “Her years of knowledge, passion for the mission and hands-on experience in the field give her a unique perspective to continue the positive progress to protect Florida’s most vulnerable.”

Thomas will replace Stephen Pennypacker, who is leaving the department to take the CEO position at Partnership for Strong Families, a community-based care lead agency in North Central Florida.

Thomas has worked for DCF for more than 30 years, when she began as a social work intern. She currently serves as the northwest region family and community services director. Thomas previously worked as the circuit administrator for Escambia, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties and has held positions as a child protective investigator, adult protective investigator and family safety program manager for the district.

“I strongly believe in the working relationships between the department and our community partners,” Thomas said. “I will continue to be a strong advocate for the children, families and the individuals DCF serves, as well as the staff in the field who are dedicated to the same mission.”

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Congressional candidate and businessman Curt Clawson is facing the rare sight of his three Republican primary opponents -- Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, former state Rep. Paige Kreegel and Michael Dreikorn -- demanding to know about his ties with Glen Borst, a convicted child molester who lived in a home owned by Clawson in Utah. Reports have emerged about Clawson’s financial disclosures regarding the house Borst lived in. There are also reports that Clawson and Borst were childhood friends.

"Now more than ever, we stand together to put politics aside to address some very serious questions that have been raised in this race,” the candidates said in a joint statement released on Tuesday. “As candidates for the United States Congress – but more importantly as parents and members of this community -- there is no greater priority than protecting our children from the violent predators who target them. Recent news reports have brought into question Curt Clawson's relationship with a violent child rapist in Utah. He has dismissed these news reports as politically driven, and that just couldn't be further from the truth."

Benacquisto, Dreikorn and Kreegel will appear at a media event in Fort Myers on Wednesday on the matter. The candidates battle it out in the primary on April 22.

The Clawson team responded with an audio recording from a woman who said she was the mother of the child Borst abused. This woman said she was upset and disgusted at Clawson's opponents for using her daughter's tragedy as a political issue.
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Two female legislators held a news conference in Tallahassee to highlight "Equal Pay Day" on Tuesday, promoting pay equality for men and women.

Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, joined with Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, to address the public on the importance of pay equality.

“Let me try to appeal to the senses of men … don’t you want your wife to get equal pay for equal work?” asked Cruz.

Cruz and Joyner have both filed bills which would require Florida to collect -- and make public information -- about women’s pay and conduct a study on the issue of pay equality. Neither bill has received a committee hearing.

The issue has sparked the interest of President Barack Obama, who on Tuesday signed an executive order instructing Labor Secretary Tom Perez to establish new regulations requiring federal contractors to submit to the DOL summary data on compensation paid to their employees, including data by race and sex.

"Equal Pay Day means that a woman has to work about this far into 2014 in order to earn what a man earned in 2013," said Obama.

According to the White House, full-time working women earn 77 percent of what their male counterparts earn. This means that women have to work approximately 60 extra days, or about three months, to earn what men did by the end of the previous year.  
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Florida’s newest state university has narrowed down its search for its first president to two candidates.

Florida Polytechnic University’s presidential search committee held a public meeting on Tuesday morning in which it announced that the choice came down to Randy Avent, currently the associate vice president for research and the associate provost at North Carolina State University, and Robert McGrath, the senior vice president and director of the Georgia Tech Research Institute.

“We were extremely impressed by the pool of candidates for this important position,” said Don Wilson, who sits on the schools’s board of trustees and is on the search committee. “As a brand new state university, dedicated wholly to hands-on, high-tech STEM education, Florida Polytechnic is unique in the world of higher ed. It requires a leader with entrepreneurial vision, proven leadership ability and a commitment to continuously riding the cutting edge of technology. I feel confident we’ll find that combination of attributes among our finalists.”

The candidates will be at a meet-and-greet on Sunday and the committee is expected to announce a finalist on Monday.
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Even as 7 million Americans have signed up for President Barack Obama’s federal health-care program, a new poll shows Americans do not think it is that successful.

Rasmussen Reports released a poll of likely voters on Tuesday which finds less than a quarter of those surveyed -- 23 percent -- believe the program to be a success. Twice as many voters -- 46 percent -- believe it is a failure while 29 percent say it is somewhere in-between. The poll also shows most Americans -- 62 percent -- expect the law to be repealed soon.

The poll of 1,000 likely voters was taken from April 5-6 and had a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.
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With buzz building that former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., could run for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, on Monday Rasmussen Reports highlighted a poll taken last month which shows half of Americans are less likely to vote for him due to his family legacy.

The poll shows 50 percent of those surveyed are less likely to vote for Bush since his father and his brother served as presidents. Only 14 percent say they are more likely to vote for Bush due to his family legacy while 34 percent say it will have no impact.

The poll of 1,000 likely voters from across the nation was taken March 4-5 and had a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.
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Public Policy Polling (PPP), a firm with ties to prominent Democrats, took a poll for liberal group which finds former Gov. Charlie Crist leading Gov. Rick Scott 49 percent to 42 percent. Back in January, a PPP poll found Crist leading 43 percent to 41 percent. A Sunshine State News poll released on Monday finds Scott edging Crist 45 percent to 44 percent.

Scott’s team clearly had no use for PPP based on their response on Tuesday morning.

"This polling doesn’t pass the common-sense test,” said Greg Blair, a spokesman for the Scott campaign. “A Democratic pollster, working for a Democratic attack group, not only found Charlie Crist winning in Florida, but also claims Republicans are losing noncompetitive races in Kansas and Georgia. Despite the outlandish claims made in this polling, Charlie Crist will continue to be weighed down by the disaster known as Obamacare and his support for the policies of a deeply unpopular president.”

Blair also took a shot at PPP’s polls of the special congressional election in Pinellas County last month.

"And if you think PPP is an accurate outfit, please call Congresswoman Sink’s office for her response,” added Blair.
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Former Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., announced on Monday that he was backing Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, in the April 22 Republican primary to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., in Congress. Huckabee moved to Florida after his bid for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008.

“We are in a fight to preserve our shared conservative values and we need proven warriors like Lizbeth Benacquisto to win that battle,” Huckabee insisted. “To all our friends in the 19th Congressional District headed to the polls on April 22nd, I need you to join me in supporting the strongest conservative in the race – Lizbeth Benacquisto,

“You can’t argue with Lizbeth’s proven conservative credentials,” Huckabee added. “She’s a fiscal hawk who's cut taxes, balanced the budget and reduced job-killing regulations in Florida and I know she can cut through the noise and do the same in Washington. Lizbeth’s fought to protect life and end the scourge of abortion, she's been a fierce advocate for Florida’s seniors and veterans, and she has helped lead the fight to crack down on child predators.

“The people of Southwest Florida and across this great nation deserve a conservative leader like Lizbeth Benacquisto in the Congress,” Huckabee concluded.
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Let’s Get to Work, a political group tied to Gov. Rick Scott, released a new television ad on Monday. The ad, which will start airing across Florida on Thursday, hits former Gov. Charlie Crist for supporting President Barack Obama’s federal health-care law. Despite spending most of his political career as a Republican, Crist is the favorite for the Democratic nomination to challenge Scott in November.

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“Charlie Crist’s pathetic search for political relevance has led him to embrace a resident who told the 'Lie of the Year,’ and a healthcare law that is forcing Floridians to lose their insurance plans and doctors they like,” said Republican National Committee Co-Chair Sharon Day on Monday. “If Charlie Crist’s horrible term as governor of Florida didn’t disqualify him to be governor again, supporting Obamacare certainly should.”

Scott’s team will be spending $2 million to run the ad.
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Over the weekend, CNN reported that Democrats are hoping former state CFO Alex Sink takes on U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., in a rematch of a special election last month. Even as Sink ponders running again, the National Republican Congressional Committee launched a pre-emptive strike against the Democrat on Monday.

 “Pinellas families rejected Alex Sink already once this year for being Nancy Pelosi’s handpicked candidate,” said Katie Prill, a spokeswoman for the NRCC. “If Sink, the Pelosi-Obamacare supporting candidate, decides to run again this November, it will truly be the definition of insanity.”
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At the end of last week, freshman U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., showcased Dr. Ben Carson’s fight against President Barack Obama’s federal health-care plan. Carson has left the door open to running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

DeSantis posted the following entry on his blog:

Today, Dr. Ben Carson, the famed pediatric neurosurgeon from Johns Hopkins, released a series of health care reform principles to guide Obamacare replacement efforts. I had the pleasure of meeting Dr. Carson at the National Prayer Breakfast in 2013. Dr. Carson has been a frequent critic of Obamacare, and his principles represent the antithesis of the government-centered model of Obamacare. The Carson principles are:

1. Our health is the most personal and important thing we possess, therefore its care must be under our control.

2. Centralization and bureaucracy are the antithesis of personalization, and only discourage choice and innovation.

3. Large-scale change should not be imposed from above. Instead, we must have the freedom to choose what is best for our families and build on proven successes.

4. Advancing technology and innovation can reduce costs and increase efficiency but every individual must always own and control their personal medical information.

5. States should have maximum flexibility to design the programs that serve their citizens.

6. Employers and individuals purchasing health insurance must always be free to buy coverage and benefits consistent with their moral and religious beliefs.

7. Physicians are the backbone of our health care system and deserve to practice in an environment free of unnecessary, frivolous and costly lawsuits.

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U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., is calling for the elimination of the federal Race to the Top Fund (RTT), insisting that program takes educational power away from parents and puts it in the hands of the federal government. Yoho sent a letter to U.S. Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., the chairman of the House Labor, Health and Human Services and Education Appropriations Subcommittee, and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., the ranking Democrat on the committee.

“RTT was established initially as a federal incentive for the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers to voluntarily adopt Common Core education standards,” Yoho said on Friday. “All states that adopt Common Core State Standards compete for grant money based on a point system. If states agree to adopt the secretary of education’s standards, they are awarded additional points, thus tipping the scale in favor of those states. This is nothing more than an attempt from the administration to coerce states into implementing federal standards. Parents and educators should be making the decisions that shape the curriculum for our children, not the U.S. Department of Education.”
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Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, unveiled a new television ad as she continues her bid to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., in Congress. Benacquisto takes on businessman Curt Clawson, former state Rep. Paige Kreegel and activist Michael Dreikorn in the April 22 Republican primary.

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In the ad, Benacquisto stresses her conservatism and calls out her opponents and “liberal special interests” for running attack ads against her, but does not go after any of them by name.

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Former Gov. Jeb Bush teamed up with another potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate to help showcase a new Republican super-PAC led by veteran Republican strategist Alex Castellanos. Bush and Gov. Bobby Jindal, R-La., are in the new ad for “New Republican” which supports school choice, energy exploration, the free-market economy and immigration reform while opposing President Barack Obama’s federal health-care law. The ad appeared on Sunday morning during the national political talk shows.

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“If you believe that every parent ought to be able to choose their child’s school and that the economy should be driven from the bottom up, not the top down from Washington, then you’re thinking like a New Republican,” Bush says in the ad

“If you don’t think the Republican Party should be the party of big government, big business or big anything, you’re thinking like a New Republican,” Jindal says in the ad.
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Former U.S. Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., showcased his support of Utah congressional hopeful Mia Love in a new video. Love was the first Republican to win the support of the Allen West Guardian Fund PAC as the former Florida congressman looks to keep a seat at the political table.

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“Since the very beginning, the Allen West Guardian Fund has been about one thing – sending to Washington 14 hard-charging conservatives who will go to the ends of the earth to protect the Constitution and defend our values,” West insisted in an email to supporters sent out on Friday. "And I will not rest until we succeed in our mission.”

West has left the door open to a political comeback in 2016.
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Gov. Rick Scott joined  Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vineyard Jr. on Friday to announce 10 wastewater and stormwater projects that will receive more than $29 million in loan funding for South Florida through the department’s Clean Water State Revolving Fund program.

The Projects in South Florida Include projects in Miami-Dade, Monroe County, Islamorada, Marathon, Key Largo, Dania Beach, North Miami and Miramar. 

Established in 1989, the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program provides financial savings for projects to benefit the environment, including protection of public health and conservation of local watersheds. 

The program has awarded $3.8 billion in loans since its inception, and more than $1.4 billion in funding for 96 projects in just the last five years.

“Investing in water quality in South Florida is important to all the families who live in the area," said Scott. "These critical projects will help keep Floridians and our environment healthy. We must continue our focus to improve water quality throughout the state to ensure that Florida remains the best place in the country to live, work and raise a family.” 

The announcement received a great deal of praise from legislators across the state.

“In order for our state to continue to attract visitors, we must continue to prioritize spending on our environment," said Sen. Rene Garcia, R-Hialeah. "Today’s announcement of wastewater and stormwater treatment upgrades is good for our economy and for all Floridians.”

“For years the State Revolving Fund has given communities the boost they need to implement technologies that will change the impact they have on our state’s delicate water resources," said Rep. Jose Oliva, R-Miami Lakes. "Gov. Scott has once again provided that bump to put local governments in a position to make a difference.”


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After Gov. Rick Scott called on the Agency for Health Care Administration to investigate the processes of federal VA hospitals in Florida, he expressed his severe disappointment after surveyors who attempted to complete an onsite review at the West Palm Beach VA Medical Center were turned away.

“Florida veterans deserve quality health care and I am disappointed the VA turned away the agency’s surveyors who were trying to bring transparency to the processes of federal VA hospitals," said Scott. "This is outrageous and unacceptable to the brave men and women who have defended our nation. We expect the federal government to do what’s best for our veterans and answer the many outstanding questions important to improving their health care.”

Scott was upset by five deaths that occurred in the VA region serving Florida and the lack of answers about where those deaths took place. 

VA officials have refused to say in which hospitals the deaths occurred. 

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Former president George W. Bush has a passion for painting, and he's got a new art exhibit to prove it. 

In a special segment on the Today Show, Bush unveiled a series of paintings he's completed over the years, some of family pets, and others of world leaders like former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The paintings will be part of an exhibit called "The Art of Leadership: A President's Personal Diplomacy" at the George W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum on the campus of Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

In the interview with his daughter, Jenna Bush Hager, the former president says: "I paint a lot because, as you know, I'm a driven person." 

"I was little reluctant to put them out [publicly], because I'm not a great artist," said Bush. "I don't want people to think I'm a great artist. On the other hand, I did want to refresh the Bush Center. I want people to come and visit us. We view ourselves as a place where people can learn."
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The U.S. economy added 192,000 jobs during the month of March, according to numbers released Friday by the the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

March job numbers are slightly below February's revised total of 197,000 jobs added. Employers added a combined 37,000 more jobs in February and January than previously estimated. 

The national unemployment rate stayed flat at 6.7 percent. The national labor force participation rate came in at 63.2 percent, up slightly from February.

The sectors that added the most jobs during March were business services with 57,000 jobs added, as well as health care and construction which each added 19,000 jobs. Local governments added 8,000 jobs, but those job gains were offset by a larger decline of 9,000 in federal government jobs. 
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Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera blasted former governor Charlie Crist on Thursday, for his selfishness and for hurting Florida's economy while he was in office. 

On Thursday, the Florida Democratic Party accused Gov. Rick Scott of having anti-Hispanic policies, launching a new website against the governor.

"Clearly there is no limit to how low Charlie Crist will sink in pursuit of his selfish ambition," said Lopez-Cantera. "The facts are simple -- Charlie Crist drove our economy into the ground as governor and then he ran away. I am insulted that he would resort to using the Hispanic community as a pawn in his sick, desperate game to regain a position that he chose to abandon in 2010 in pursuit of his self-centered goals.” 

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During his time in the U.S. Army’s JAG Corps, U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., served at Fort Hood from 2000-2002. In the aftermath of the shootings at Fort Hood which left four dead, Rooney weighed in with his thoughts and called for an investigation.

“Tara and I were shocked and saddened to learn of another shooting at our former home, Fort Hood,” Rooney said. “While we are still waiting for all the facts, we do know that four people are dead and 16 have been wounded. For the families of the fallen, and for the soldiers who have been injured, life will never be the same. Tara and I send our thoughts and prayers to all the soldiers at Fort Hood and their families, and our deepest condolences to the families of those who were killed.

“We do not yet know how or why this tragedy occurred, but nearly five years after the Nidal Hassan shooting at Fort Hood in 2009, it is clear that we must do far more to ensure that our troops are safe when they are at home on base,” Rooney added. “We must thoroughly investigate what happened today, so that we can take whatever action is necessary to prevent something like this from ever occurring again.”   

Rooney has called for awarding the Purple Heart for those killed and wounded in the 2009 Fort Hood shooting.
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Republican congressional candidate Jake Rush’s campaign continues to reel in the aftermath of revelations about his dark-themed role-playing hobby. Rush’s role-playing garnered national attention this week. Rush is running against U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., in the Republican primary.

After details and photos emerged about Rush’s hobby, his campaign team pushed back, insisting the Yoho campaign was behind it and insisting they did not try to scrub or remove details of his role-playing from the Web. The Gainesville Sun is now reporting that a fellow gamer was behind giving the media the information (as Sunshine State News reported on Tuesday) and Yoho was not behind it.

Rush also told the Sun that he did, in fact, try to scrub his role-playing.

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U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., announced on Thursday that he made the ballot by petition as he runs for a second term in Congress.

“I am thrilled that our team is the first to qualify on the 2014 ballot,” Yoho said. “It is no easy task to collect nearly 4,500 petitions and I couldn’t be more humbled by the outpouring of support from our local communities.

“Carolyn, our team and I want to thank all of the hard-working, dedicated volunteers, and supporters that helped us achieve our goal of qualifying by the petition method,” Yoho continued. “It was important for us to qualify via the petition method instead of spending the precious donation dollars received by you, our valued individual supporters.  We thank you for both.

“We began our campaign years ago as a small, grassroots movement and remain committed to that still,” Yoho said in conclusion. “I look forward to seeing old friends on the campaign trail as well as new ones as we begin a new election year. The issues that impact our neighborhoods each and every day is what I have been and will continue to focus on. It’s time to put America first.”
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Appearing on Hugh Hewitt’s national radio show on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said he did not expect to focus on both running for the Republican presidential nomination and running for a second term in the Senate come 2016.

Responding to reports that Rubio said he would make a decision about running for the White House, staying in the Senate or leaving public office around this time next year, Hewitt asked, “Isn’t that a little bit late?”

“Around this time next year is what I said,” Rubio replied. “That’s around the time I’ll have to make a decision about something.”

Rubio insisted there was no timetable or date in place yet as he thinks about what to do in 2016.

Asked by Hewitt if he would run for two different federal offices, Rubio downplayed the possibility. “You can’t be on the ballot for two different offices,” Rubio said, insisting Florida had the “right law” in place on it.

Rubio also said, if he runs for the Republican presidential nomination and loses, he does not expect to turn around and then run for the Senate. “When you choose to do something as big as that, you really got to be focused on that and not have an exit strategy,” Rubio said.

H/T Political Wire

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Former Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska will be in Southwest Florida on Thursday for a fundraising event with Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, who is running in the Republican primary to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., in Congress.

“Excited to announce that Sarah Palin is coming to Southwest Florida this week to join me on the campaign trail,” Benacquisto announced on Monday.

But tea party leaders in the district backing Curt Clawson in the primary are urging Palin to reconsider her endorsement. Jack Tymann of the Naples Tea Party, Kathy Jones of the Lee County Patriots, former congressional candidate Byron Donalds and other tea party activists wrote a letter to Palin on Wednesday. In the letter, the Clawson supporters insisted Benacquisto “demonized capitalism and an American success story” by attacking their candidate. They also accused Benacquisto of using “Obama-style campaign tactics.”

Even as Clawson backers tried to get Palin to reconsider her endorsement, Benacquisto released a letter on Wednesday which only served to strengthen her conservative credentials. Marion Hammer of the National Rifle Association Political Victory Fund (NRA-PVF) and the United Sportsmen of Florida gave Benacquisto an “A+” rating on Second Amendment issues.

The candidates will meet in the April 22 primary.
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Former state Rep. Paige Kreegel called for more transparency from elected officials when it comes to their personal finances. Kreegel is running against Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, and businessman Curt Clawson in the Republican primary to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., in Congress. The primary will be on April 22.

"Too many in Washington use nonpublic information to increase their own personal wealth," Kreegel said on Thursday. "I hereby pledge, if elected, to place my investments in a blind trust for the duration of my congressional term. I'm calling on my opponents to make the same pledge.

"We should be voting with the best interests of our constituents in mind -- not those of our own personal stock portfolios," Kreegel added.
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U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., introduced a bill on Tuesday authorizing the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to audit FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP).

“The Flood Insurance Integrity Act will require a review of the NFIP, and will provide transparency and shed much needed light on how flood rate maps are updated,” Bilirakis said on Tuesday. “The NFIP must be administered with integrity.

“This is a good government bill,” Bilirakis added. “Americans who need flood insurance should be able to know how those costs are calculated. My legislation guarantees oversight and transparency – the American people deserve nothing less.”
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A national poll released on Wednesday finds likely voters think the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) should be more focused on collecting taxes instead of ensuring Americans are compliant with President Barack Obama’s federal health-care law.

The poll from Rasmussen Reports shows 65 percent think the IRS should keep its focus on taxes.Only 19 percent think the IRS should tackle ensuring Americans have health care and 15 percent are undecided.

The poll of 1,000 likely voters was taken from March 28-29 and had a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.
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On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill rolling back $400 million in vehicle registration fees enacted in 2009 by the Republican-controlled Legislature and signed into law by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. Despite spending most of his political career as a Republican, Crist is the favorite to win the Democratic nomination and challenge Scott in November.

“Last winter, we announced our intent to return $500 million to Floridians by cutting taxes,” Scott said. “Today, we are rolling back many of the 2009 tax increases on annual motor vehicle registrations. This will result in an annual savings of $25 per typical motor vehicle and will let families keep nearly $400 million of their hard-earned money in their own pockets -- because it’s their money!”

Scott made the vehicle registration fee rollback one of his chief legislative items this year.

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Over 500 years ago, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de León and his expedition spotted Florida.

At noon on April 2, 1513, Ponce de León’s navigator, Anton de Alaminos, recorded their location just south of present-day Ponte Vedra Beach. Other explorers may have sighted Florida before Ponce de León, but the Spanish explorer is the first to have documented his location in Florida. 

Some historians say Ponce de León came ashore on April 2, while others say the landing actually occurred the following day. Ponce de León claimed La Florida for Spain and became credited with being the first explorer to discover mainland America. 
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