Sunshine State News Blogs

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., continued his fight for student loan reform on Wednesday. Rubio announced he was backing a bill from U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr which would streamline federal student loan repayment. The bill also has the support of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, R-Va. Rubio and Warner teamed up last year in pushing a bill reforming student loan repayments based on income, but the King-Burr proposal would also include set repayment rates as well.

“Helping more people achieve the American dream requires equipping them with the education and training necessary to do the jobs of the 21st century,” Rubio said. “The Repay Act would help modernize the income-based repayment system for student loans, which Sen. Warner and I have also been working on for the past year.

“We need reforms like this to ensure that the burden of student loans is more manageable to discourage overborrowing,” Rubio added. “I believe this bill’s requirement for the GAO to study the best way to enroll, verify income and facilitate income-based repayment programs will ultimately help build momentum for other initiatives I will continue working on as the Senate considers higher education reform later this year.”

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Florida House Speaker Pro Tempore Matt Hudson, R-Naples, announced on Wednesday that he will run for the Florida Senate seat currently held by Sen. Garrett Richter, R-Naples, who faces term limits in 2016.

“Today I officially filed paperwork to become a candidate for the Florida Senate,” said Hudson. “In the Senate, I promise to stand up for the same conservative principals as I have in the Florida House.”

“I am humbled by the outpouring of support from so many across our community who have encouraged me to embark on this campaign and I look forward to having an opportunity to serve Southwest Florida in the Senate,” Hudson added.

Hudson does not have a clear shot at the Republican nomination. Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, filed to run for the seat back in November.

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One of the leading Republicans on international affairs took to the floor of the U.S. House on Wednesday to attack President Barack Obama’s call to normalize relations with Cuba. U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., currently the chairwoman of the House Middle Eastern and North Africa Subcommittee, ripped into Obama’s policy in the following speech:

“Mr. Speaker, I rise today to strongly oppose the December 17th announcement by President Obama on policy changes toward the Cuban communist regime.

The Cuban regime, from day one, was planning on using Alan Gross as a pawn to receive concessions from the Obama administration and their strategy worked.

In April 2013, when asked about a possible swap for Mr. Gross, Secretary Kerry testified before Congress that “we have refused to do that because there is no equivalency. Alan Gross is wrongly imprisoned. And we are not going to trade as if it is a spy for a spy”

That turned out to be not true.

President Obama unilaterally pardoned three convicted Cuban spies.

These spies were responsible for the deaths of three American citizens and one U.S. resident: Carlos Costa, Armando Alejandre, Mario de la Peña, and Pablo Morales, whose Brothers to the Rescue planes were unjustly shot down over international airspace on direct orders of the Castro brothers.

And to make matters worse, we learn of the fact that the U.S. government used resources to facilitate artificial insemination of one of the wives of the Cuban spies. Good grief. So the White House ignores the fact that these innocent U.S. pilots were not able to have their own families but rewards one of the persons responsible for their deaths.

Not only did the dictatorship achieve the return of five convicted Cuban spies, it was able to also attain major concessions from our president in order to support their struggling economy.

Cuba’s largest supporters, Russia and Venezuela, are struggling due to their own fiscal crisis at home so the Castro brothers needed a bailout from a new source and sadly they found one with President Obama.

By increasing tourism travel on the island – the Obama administration will be injecting millions of dollars straight into the pockets of the Castro brothers. The Cuban police state runs the hotels.

Let’s examine ... the president’s announcement very closely:

First – the President claims that his new policy changes will empower the Cuban people.

Well, the pro-democracy advocates on the island have stated that the changes will help their oppressor, not the people of Cuba.

Second -- this issue not only impacts the people of Cuba, it also poses a greater threat for U.S. national security interests.

Cuba is a designated State Sponsor of Terrorism and is an avowed enemy of the United States.

With these new concessions by the administration, the Castro brothers will use some of their new economic stream to invest more funds into their espionage activities – activities that are aimed against our nation.

With the ability to garner more intelligence against the U.S., the Castro brothers are likely to hit the black market and sell this intelligence to the highest bidder.

This is not a theory – it is a fact.

One example of this fact is the case of Ana Belen Montes.

She was a convicted Cuban spy who worked for our Defense Intelligence Agency collecting information for Castro so that it can be sold to our enemies.

Third – the human rights situation on the island has not changed one bit.

The president says that he got Raul Castro to agree to the release of 53 political prisoners. Prisoners that should have never been in jail in the first place, yet the White House will not release the names of the 53 political prisoners.

Why not? What do they have to hide?

Plus – what good is it for Castro to release these 53 when he doesn’t stop capturing and detaining other prisoners? Which he will.

What has been happening in Cuba lately in these past few weeks? Well, according to reports:

o More than 80 Cubans have been detained,

o The Cuban Coast Guard sank a boat on international waters that was carrying over 30 people, causing the deaths of some of them on board; and

o Hezbollah celebrated President Obama’s announcement after a meeting with the Cuban Ambassador to Lebanon.

Mr. Speaker – I believe that this misguided policy of the president will have serious implications for the United States and sends a signal to our enemies that we will cave, and we will surrender at every turn.

We in the Congress must do everything we can to prevent these disastrous policies to go into effect. This is a bad deal for U.S. national security and for the Cuban opposition and it is a sweetheart deal for the repressive Cuban regime.”

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for the time.

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From his perch on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio ripped into “Islamic extremists” for the terrorist attack in Paris at the Charlie Hebdo magazine office.

“I was saddened to learn of the terrorist attack that claimed 12 lives at the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris earlier today,” Rubio said on Wednesday. “These journalists and satirists were apparently killed by Islamic extremists for exercising the fundamental human right of free speech and expression. These terrorists don’t hate cartoons, they hate freedom. They’re willing to target anyone and destroy anything in the name of intimidating free people and spreading their cruel and hateful dogmas. It is important for the United States – and free nations everywhere – to oppose these forces with strength and vigilance. Today, the United States must stand unequivocally with the people of France in their time of need and mourning. We must assist them to bring the perpetrators and sponsors of this act to justice.”

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Even as former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., draws closer to running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, he is drawing heavy fire from the right.

Bush announced last month that he was exploring a presidential bid. On Tuesday, Bush launched the Right to Rise leadership PAC to prepare for entering the fray. But the former Florida governor was attacked on the right on Wednesday as Constitutional Rights PAC, a libertarian-leaning group, launched petitions and an “End Jeb 2016” website.

“Our next president needs to put the Constitution first,” Larry Ward, the chairman and founder of Constitutional Rights PAC, wrote supporters on Wednesday. “After eight years of Obama, the only remedy to get our country back on track is to return to limited government.

“Jeb Bush is not the conservative choice for 2016 -- in fact, he’s very far from it. Jeb is a dyed-in-the-wool establishment Republican and an advocate of big government,” Ward added. “He supports amnesty, increased taxation and wants D.C. bureaucrats in every public school classroom in the country. He is anything but a ‘conservative’ candidate -- we’ve got to end Jeb in 2016.”

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U.S. Rep. Curt Clawson, R-Fla., voted on Tuesday for U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., to be speaker of the House.

Clawson explained his vote after U.S. House Speaker John Boehner kept the gavel.

“Today marked the time for a more conservative, more streamlined and less deal-making way of doing business on Capitol Hill,” Clawson said. “In business we call this a ‘new set of eyes.’ In politics they call us the ‘outsiders.’ That is why I supported my fellow outsider, Sen. Rand Paul, as an alternative choice to be the speaker of the House. Like much of the new blood elected to Congress in recent years, Rand Paul and I share the view that Washington is too big and that protecting our Constitution is paramount. How ironic that viewpoint is now considered ‘outsider,’ by some.”

Clawson laid out his case against Boehner and the Republican leadership.

“My disappointment came to a critical mass in last December’s ‘Cromnibus’ legislation, which included increased donations for the political parties, allowing the interests of K Street to rise over the concerns of Main Street,” Clawson said. “Additionally, I was disappointed that the legislation supported funding to untested Muslim rebels in Syria to carry out the mission of defeating ISIS, while nothing in the legislation was done to end the president’s unconstitutional executive amnesty. To me, this was unacceptable and mirrored the lack of vision in the administration's foreign policy.

“On the major issues facing our nation, since I took office last June, I have been disappointed time and again by the deals cut that do not reflect the values of Southwest Florida,” Clawson insisted. “I made the frustrations of my district known loud and clear today.”

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After his last-minute bid to oust U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, fell short on Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Fla., insisted he launched his effort to ensure Republicans pushed a “principled agenda” in Congress.

“This afternoon, several members of the Republican conference voted for me to be speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. I am humbled by their confidence in me as a leader who would articulate and execute a principled agenda at such a critical time for our party, system of government and nation,” Webster said on Tuesday. “To be sure, my candidacy and vote was not a vote against personalities, policies or even John Boehner. It was a vote for initiating a process that I know can produce sound public policy for the people who sent us to Washington on their behalf.

“As I have shared with the leadership team, I will continue to advocate for a more open, member-driven and productive process, one that places principle above power. The process by which we have come to legislate as elected representatives of the people has become flawed, and a flawed process will always produce a flawed product,’ Webster added. “I offer my sincerest congratulations to Speaker Boehner on his re-election as speaker of the House. He is a personal friend who I have come to know and admire during my tenure in the House and I pledge to work alongside him. With leadership elections behind us, and a willing partner in the Senate, our conference is united in reforming the way Washington works, opening up our government and advancing pro-growth, principled solutions.”

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Five Republican congressmen from Florida were at the center of the conservative attempt to oust House Speaker John Bohener, R-Ohio, from leadership and two of them are now paying the price.

Boehner moved swiftly against U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Fla., and U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Fla., tossing the two Florida Republicans off of the Rules Committee. Webster had emerged as the chief threat to Boehner, winning 12 votes against the speaker.

Politico has the details.



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U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, will keep the gavel but his continued efforts to lead the House drew the opposition of 25 Republican congressmen on Tuesday, including five from the Sunshine State.

Florida Republican U.S. Reps. Curt Clawson, Rich Nugent, Bill Posey, Dan Webster and Ted Yoho voted against Boehner on Tuesday. Both Yoho and U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, challenged Boehner who was expected to fend off the challenges. But Webster, a former speaker of the Florida House, garnered a dozen votes, including his own, even though he did not initially challenge Boehner. 

Matt Kibbe, the president of Freedom Works, noted how grassroots conservatives stood against Boehner.

“I am honored to have stood in solidarity with thousands of grassroots activists nationwide and the 25 members of the House who made the principled vote for new leadership today, rather than the easy vote,” Kibbe said. “Challenges are a critical reminder to Republicans in Congress that nobody is entitled to their seat, or their leadership position. They have to earn it, or we will be back next year. Activists sent over 20,000 messages and 13,000 phone calls to Congress in the last 72 hours demanding a change in leadership.

“We knew going into this fight that it would be a David versus Goliath effort, but each year the tally grows of fiscal conservatives in the House willing to change the status quo,” Kibbe added. “Renewing the Export-Import Bank used to be automatic, it isn’t today. Raising the debt ceiling used to be automatic, it isn’t today. Re-electing the speaker of the House used to be automatic, it isn’t today. This is the beginning of a paradigm shift in Congress, where inside baseball is now the people’s business.

"We are going to help grassroots activists, and the brave members of Congress who took a stand today, to continue that fight until the number of pro-liberty votes in Congress reaches critical mass.”

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The two leaders of the Florida Legislature -- Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island -- weighed in on Tuesday, offering their takes on Gov. Rick Scott‘s inaugural and looked ahead to the legislative tasks to  come.

“My Senate colleagues and I congratulate Gov. Scott, Lt. Gov. Lopez-Cantera, General Bondi, CFO Atwater and Commissioner Putnam and look forward to a continued partnership as we work to keep Florida on the path to long-term economic recovery,” Gardiner said. “Over the last four years, our state has made tremendous progress. We’ve passed a balanced budget every year. We’ve reduced the tax burden on families and businesses. We’ve invested in education, economic development and transportation infrastructure. We’ve responsibly saved for the future, and we’ve worked to maintain a business climate that gives private-sector job creators the confidence to locate and expand their businesses here in Florida.”

“As the Senate begins its committee work this week, we applaud our friends in the executive branch and look forward to the work that lies ahead,” Gardiner added.

Crisafulli also praised Scott and said the House would work with the governor in his call to reduce taxes.

“On behalf of the Florida House, I would like to congratulate Gov. Scott, Lt. Gov. Lopez-Cantera, Commissioner Putnam, General Bondi and CFO Atwater on their inauguration today," Crisafulli said. “The House looks forward to working together to continue making Florida the best state in the nation.

“Under Gov. Scott’s leadership, our state has seen jobs grow and unemployment shrink by creating an environment where businesses can thrive,” Crisafulli added. “For the past four years, Floridians have seen a reduction in their tax burden and we look forward to working with the governor and the Cabinet to continue that trend.”

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Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., was sworn in for a second term and called for an increased commitment to job creation and fiscal conservatism on Tuesday.

Following the state constitutional revisions of 1968, Scott is only the fifth governor in Florida history to serve a second consecutive term, joining former Govs. Reubin Askew, Bob Graham, Lawton Chiles and Jeb Bush. Scott defeated former Gov. Charlie Crist in November.

Having focused on job creation during his two gubernatorial campaigns and in his first term, Scott’s inauguration featured everyday Floridians talking about their experiences getting new jobs in recent years.

Joined by fellow Republicans Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Attorney General Pam Bondi, state CFO Jeff Atwater and Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam, Scott took the oath of office shortly after noon on a sunny but brisk Tallahassee day. They were joined by two former governors -- Democrat Wayne Mixson and Republican Bob Martinez -- and two current leaders of other states considering running for president in 2016: Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J., and Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas. Former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, R-Fla., leaders from the Florida Legislature, state Supreme Court justices and various state commissioners and members of the Scott administration were also at the dias.

“The campaign is over,” Scott said in his inaugural address. “Now we turn to governing.”

Scott promised to fight for all Floridians and called for coming together on a number of issues “for the benefit of each and every Floridian.” As he had in his two gubernatorial campaigns, Scott focused on job creation.

“Every one of the 700,000 jobs represents a family ... one job doesn’t help a person, it transforms a family,” Scott insisted.

“I ran for governor to change lives, to make it better for other people,” Scott added. “If you want to change a life, the most important thing you can do is get someone a job.

“Jobs have been my focus for the last four years,” Scott said. “Jobs will be by mission for the next four years.”

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Ready to take over the U.S. Senate Western Hemisphere Subcommittee, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., slammed President Barack Obama’s plans to normalize relations with Cuba. On Tuesday, Rubio sent a letter to Obama noting more than 50 political prisoners held by the Castro regime and calling for the White House to end normalization efforts.

“To date, no information has been provided about the political prisoners to be released – regarding their identities, conditions or whereabouts, even on a confidential basis, to members of Congress,” Rubio wrote Obama in the letter. “Just yesterday, your own State Department was unable to provide an explanation about the political prisoners in question.

“While I believe that the entirety of your new Cuba policy is overwhelmingly one-sided in the Castro regime’s favor and based on the flawed premise that giving it more legitimacy and money will result in a freer Cuban people, the least your administration can do now is hold the regime accountable for fully freeing these 53 political prisoners as well as those who have been detained in recent weeks,” Rubio added. “A failure to do so will further embolden the regime to continue its oppression.

“To this end, I urge you to cancel the travel of administration officials to Cuba to further discuss the normalization of diplomatic relations at least until all 53 political prisoners, plus those arrested since your December 17th announcement, have been released and are no longer subjected to repression that often takes the form of house arrests, aggressive surveillance, denied Internet access, forced exile and other forms of harassment,” Rubio continued. “Almost three weeks after your Cuba announcement, there is absolutely no reason why any of these individuals should be in prison or the targets of repression – or for their identities, conditions and whereabouts to remain such closely held secrets.”

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Former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., will file the paperwork to create a federal leadership PAC on Tuesay as he continues exploring running for the Republican presidential nomination.

Bush will launch his new Right to Rise PAC on Tuesday according to a report from Fox News.

Last month, Bush announced that he would explore running for president.

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Florida TaxWatch released a report on Tuesday morning looking at how the Sunshine State’s economy will do in the new year. The report shows economic growth across the state, particularly in Naples-Marco Island and Palm Coast. The report also finds Florida’s housing market is making a comeback.

"Florida had a very successful year in 2014, as shown by our state's latest revenue increases and jobs numbers, and Florida's economy and job growth should keep climbing in 2015," said Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, on Tuesday. "Florida is making the right economic investments and we are consistently beating the rest of the nation in development and growth. Even our latest population numbers show that people want to be a part of what we're doing here in Florida."

Overall, the report is optimistic about the state’s economy over the year ahead.

“Florida is expected to perform better than the U.S. and world economies in 2015,” the report concludes. “Growth in employment is mainly going to be driven by the construction, professional and business services, and the transportation, warehousing and utility sectors. Florida’s housing market, although still facing high foreclosure activity, is expected to continue on its path of recovery through 2015. It is worth noting that the strengthening of the U.S. dollar and a slowing global economy may affect exports and the manufacturing industry, and these factors may influence the decisions of international visitors and homebuyers, but overall 2015 is shaping up as a sunny year for Florida’s economy.”

The report can be read here.

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U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., who won a second term in November, is challenging U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to lead the House on Tuesday. Yoho made his final pitch in an email to supporters sent out on Tuesday morning.

“I didn't come to Washington for a job,” Yoho insisted. “I came for a cause and love of country. I believe members who feel the same way cannot in good conscience accept the status quo. As such, I along with others have stepped forward to offer an alternative.

“For the past year, I have spoken with several members who have voiced their disappointment and frustration with our speaker and the process,” Yoho continued. “For too long, the excuse was that folks didn't have an alternative. Now they have a choice. If we are serious about regaining the trust of the American people and getting our country back on track, then we must do what is necessary to change the current state of affairs.

“I ran for Congress back in 2012 because I had had enough,” Yoho added. “Enough of career politicians, enough of political gamesmanship, and enough of the lack of leadership in Washington. As we enter 2015, we are faced with overwhelming challenges. However, the dawn of 2015 also promises unlimited potential and the opportunity to begin rebuilding America.

“In order to do this, strong leadership is required,” Yoho wrote. “The American people have spoken loud and clear by their choice to elect conservative representatives to serve them in Washington. It's our turn now, as members of the people's house, to echo their demands by electing a new speaker. The American people have allowed us to choose who is best suited to lead the House by electing a deep bench of diverse and qualified members. Our republic is built on choice, and I have decided to give all members that choice.

“Our vote for a new speaker is not a personal vote against Rep. Boehner -- it is a vote against the status quo,” Yoho insisted in conclusion. “Our vote is a signal to the American people that we, too, have had enough of Washington politics, and that we will stand with the American people. This is a renewed commitment of our oath of office, the people we represent, and the Constitution. In 2015, we will take America back, we will restore opportunity for every American, and we will rebuild America.”

Yoho is considered an underdog to defeat Boehner when the Republican caucus chooses a speaker on Tuesday.

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Circuit Judge Sarah Zabel ruled Monday that same-sex couples in Florida could begin getting marriage licenses immediately, paving the way for same-sex marriages to begin in the Sunshine State.

Miami-Dade County Clerk Harvey Ruvin said gay marriage ceremonies could begin taking place as early as Monday afternoon.

In 2008, voters took the issue to the polls, voting against allowing gay marriage in Florida, but after a lengthy legal battle, a federal judge ruled the ban unconstitutional in December, saying the ban was discriminatory and violated equal protection guarantees.

Same-sex marriages are set to begin in other parts of the state after midnight Tuesday.
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Gov. Rick Scott’s team released excepts from the governor’s second inaugural address on Monday. Scott, only the fifth governor in Florida history to win a second term, will be sworn in again on Tuesday.

In the speech, Scott will focus on fiscal conservatism, calling for lower taxes and smaller government, highlighting how they help the economy. Scott also will promise to hit other states, looking to recruit jobs and new residents.

Here are some excerpts from the speech:


While we are focused on growing jobs in Florida, we must realize that positions our state as a fighter in a great movement against the silent growth of government. Many states, like Florida, are fighting to limit the growth of government and grow opportunity instead. ...

Over the last 20 years, millions of people have escaped from states with climbing tax rates to move to states with lower taxes. Why does this matter?

For starters, estimates say individuals who escaped these high-tax states have taken with them around $2 trillion in adjusted gross income.

They are voting with their feet. …

They are leaving states like New York, which lost $71 billion in adjusted gross income from 1992 to 2011. And they are leaving Illinois, which lost $31 billion in adjusted gross income over that same period. The people that left New York and Illinois had one thing in common – their No. 1 destination was Florida. ... 

In fact, this national battle against growing government so intensely affects Florida that we just recently surpassed New York as the third largest state in the nation.

In Florida we are proving that government can do better without getting bigger. ...

I have a message today to the people of New York, Illinois, California, Pennsylvania and others: move to Florida! We want you to keep more of the money you make because we understand it’s your money. We want your businesses to grow and succeed. We want to compete globally and win. Over the next four years, I will be traveling to your states personally to recruit you here. ...

Keeping our costs low doesn’t end with tax cuts – it also includes lowering the cost of higher education opportunities as well. That is why we have already worked with the Legislature to stop tuition increases in our undergraduate programs. And, to make higher education even more affordable in the next four years, we will increase the number of $10,000 bachelor degrees offered at our state colleges; while also holding the line on graduate school tuition. ...

In addition to cutting taxes, we have an ambitious agenda to keep Florida working and become the global leader for job creation by the year 2020.

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With a federal judge striking down the state constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2008 recognizing only traditional marriage in the Sunshine State, same-sex marriage is set to start in Florida on Tuesday. Conservative attorney John Stemberger of the Florida Family Policy Council has been fighting against same-sex marriage efforts and weighed in on the situation on Monday.

Insisting “not much” can be done currently, Stemberger emailed supporters offering his take on where things stand.

“Our lawyers with Liberty Counsel have asked the judge's office assigned to the Orange County lawsuit for an emergency hearing, so it is possible, but unlikely, that any judge at this point would have the courage to do the right thing and rule in our favor to uphold the law,” Stemberger wrote. “The peer pressure within the Bar and judicial circles is quite heavy and few judges have the backbone to do what is legally and morally right on these issues. As C.S. Lewis said, ‘We make men without chests, and expect from them virtue and enterprise.’

Nor did Stemberger think the U.S. Supreme Court would prove any better, pointing to Justice Anthony Kennedy as the “swing vote” on the bench.

“While it is not clear where Kennedy will come down on this issue, in Windsor, the last major SCOTUS marriage case, he used very hostile and frankly offensive language to describe people who have a traditional or natural view of marriage,” Stemberger insisted. “But he also took a states' rights position in that case, so it is possible that he could give the SCOTUS a majority vote for upholding Florida's marriage law. A states' rights decision would immediately reinvigorate the authority of Florida's marriage amendment. On the other hand, it is also possible Kennedy could find a new right to marry under the Equal Protection Clause, which would result in a Roe v. Wade-like marriage decision, which would block any further changes in the law for decades to come. 

“If SCOTUS did come out with a states' rights ruling then this would create a further confused patchwork of case law and precedent with three categories: legitimate marriages, same-sex marriages which are now in question because of the new decision under the newly authoritative marriage amendment, and then same-sex couples who want to be married and now cannot,” Steberger added. “But this is precisely the type of confusion the left wants.”

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Gov. Rick Scott will be attending several events on Tuesday, including a prayer breakfast and a ceremony to honor military families.

According to a release from the Republican Party of Florida, Scott will attend a prayer breakfast at the Jake Gaither Gymnasium at Florida A&M University Tuesday morning. After he's sworn in, first lady Ann Scott will honor military families at the Goodwood Museum. 

The Inaugural Celebration Reception will be held at the governor's mansion Tuesday evening.
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U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., voted against U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, to lead the House in 2013, and on Saturday night the North Florida congressman said he still opposed his leadership. Yoho said he would run against Boehner “if needed” but added there was a “deep bench of diverse and qualified members” he could support in the Republican caucus.

"I ran for Congress in 2012 because I had had enough,” Yoho said on Saturday night. “Enough of career politicians, enough of political gamesmanship, and enough of the lack of leadership in Washington. As we enter 2015, we are faced with overwhelming challenges. However, the dawn of 2015 also promises unlimited potential and the opportunity to begin rebuilding America.

"In order to do this, strong leadership is required,” Yoho added. “The American people have spoken loud and clear by their choice to elect conservative representatives to serve them in Washington. It’s our turn now, as members of the people’s house, to echo their demands by electing a new speaker.

“The American people have allowed us to choose who is best suited to lead the House by electing a deep bench of diverse and qualified members,” Yoho added. “Our republic is built on choice and, if needed, I would stand up to give our members that option.”

Yoho insisted he had nothing against Boehner personally.

"Our vote for a new speaker is not a personal vote against Rep. Boehner – it is a vote against the status quo,” Yoho said. “Our vote is a signal to the American people that we, too, have had enough of Washington politics, and that we will stand with the American people. This is a renewed commitment of our oath of office, the people we represent, and the Constitution. In 2015, we will take America back, we will restore opportunity for every American, and we will rebuild America."

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Former Gov. Mike Huckabee, R-Ark., announced on Saturday night that he will end his “Huckabee” show on Fox News and explore running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016. Huckabee placed a surprising second in the 2008 Republican presidential primaries, winning the Iowa caucus. Following his 2008 presidential bid, Huckabee moved to the Florida Panhandle.

"Tonight I will do more than just say goodnight,” Huckabee said on Saturday night. “I will say goodbye. This is the last edition of 'Huckabee' on the Fox News Channel. It's been the ride of a lifetime, and I have never had so much fun in my life. But I also realize that God hasn't put me on earth just to have a good time or to make a good living, but rather has put me on earth to try to make a good life.

"There has been a great deal of speculation as to whether I would run for president,” Huckabee added. “If I were willing to absolutely rule that out, I could keep doing this show. But I can't make such a declaration. I won't make a decision about running until late in the spring of 2015, but the continued chatter has put Fox News into a position that is not fair to them, nor is it possible for me to openly determine political and financial support to justify a race. The honorable thing to do at this point is to end my tenure here at Fox. As much as I have loved doing the show, I cannot bring myself to rule out another presidential run. So, as we say in television, stay tuned!"

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Barb Haselden

Barb Haselden

Watchdog.org lists one Floridian among its 17 Top Good Guys around the nation for 2014: Barb Haselden.

Haselden, says the website, probably saved her fellow Florida taxpayers $2 billion. For her effort, she earned the wrath of powerful political, business and media interests.

"Haselden and her merry crew, No Tax for Tracks, had the gall to question the cost and the value of a 24-mile light-rail line connecting St. Petersburg to Clearwater," said Florida reporter Will Patrick. "Hers was a classic David vs. Goliath battle over public money."

“It was nasty,” she told Watchdog.

Haselden went to dozens of transit authority meetings, decoding and alerting the public to a web of interests that stood to benefit from the project. They made signs, organized on Facebook, knocked on doors, made phone calls and provided a voice of dissent at public meetings.

Despite a $1.2 million effort that included misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal terrorism grants, county voters rejected what would have burdened them with the highest sales tax rate in Florida.

Outgunned and outspent, No Tax for Tracks beat the elites.

“It was a huge investment, but I did it,” Haselden told Patrick. “I’m not a genius or an expert, but I wouldn’t let them get around me. Anyone can do this. Just start in your own county.”

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Republican voters might not be entirely onboard with Jeb Bush running for president, according to a poll released Monday. 

The Rasmussen Reports poll found only 33 percent of likely GOP voters believe Bush should run for president in 2016. Nearly the same amount (34 percent) said they believe Bush should run, while another 33 percent said they weren't sure. 

When considering both Republicans and Democrats in the survey, over half -- 53 percent -- said they didn't believe Bush should run for president. 

Bush's family ties could hurt his chances at becoming president -- the poll found nearly half (49 percent) said his relationship to George Bush and George W. Bush would make them less likely to vote for Bush in 2016.

 The survey of 1,000 likely voters was conducted Dec. 28 by Rasmussen Reports. The sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence.  
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Tallahassee continues a holiday tradition by providing local residents with a “greener” way to dispose of their evergreens.

According to a press release from Sachs Media, Four Points by Sheraton Tallahassee Downtown has been designated again this year as an official drop-off location to recycle old Christmas trees.

The trees will be ground into mulch and used on the walking paths and trails to improve city parks.

Prepare your tree by removing all decorations and ornaments, then drop the tree off at 316 West Tennessee St. anytime between now and Jan. 4, 2015.

“We’re so excited to be participating in this program again this year,” said hotel general manager Bo Schmitz, who claims this yearly venture is a chance to further the company's green initiatives program. “Our company is highly involved in conservation and environmental initiatives, so this is a perfect fit for us. Christmas trees that would normally end up in a landfill will be given a second life and reused as mulch to help improve and beautify our city parks.”

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Gov. Rick Scott announced two appointments and one reappointment to the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission on Wednesday.

Fred Karlinsky, 47, of Weston, is a shareholder of Greenberg Traurig. He succeeds Alexander Clem and is appointed for a term that began Christmas Eve 2014, and will end July 1, 2018.

Hala Sandridge, 54, of Tampa, is a shareholder of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney. She succeeds former Attorney General Robert Butterworth, and was appointed from a list submitted by the Florida Bar for a term that began Christmas Eve 2014, and will end July 1, 2018.

Cynthia Angelos, 59, of Port St. Lucie, is a self-employed attorney. She was reappointed from a list submitted by the Florida Bar for a term that began Christmas Eve 2014, and will end July 1, 2018.

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

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

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

On Friday, Bondi said the stay would end.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The poll of 1,000 likely U.S. voters was conducted Dec. 7-8 by Rasmussen Reports.  
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