Sunshine State News Blogs

Groups opposing high-stakes testing and the Common Core State Standards will be hitting Florida's Capitol Thursday morning to promote two bills which would limit testing and expand options for education standards in the Sunshine State.

The two bills -- SB 1496, filed by Sen. Greg Evers, R-Baker, and HB 1121, filed by Rep. John Tobia, R-Melbourne Beach, would allow school districts to select English-language arts and math standards from a pre-2009 "best of breed" list and would also eliminate mandatory statewide testing.

The Florida Citizens Alliance will meet in Tallahassee Thursday for "The March for Children," an event designed to bring constituents and legislators together for "a meaningful discussion" about the current state of Florida's schools.

Attendees will also discuss ways to stop high-stakes testing against Florida students.

“This is truly a grass roots solution to the convoluted and oppressive testing and federal overreach problems that have plagued schools and destroyed the love of learning,” said Keith Flaugh, one of FLCA's founding directors.

“This bill is one small step toward reinstituting local control of Florida schools, and one giant leap for the right of children to be educated in a safe, nonideological, and effective manner," said Duke Pesta, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh assistant professor and anti-Common Core activist.

The event begins at 11 a.m. in the Capitol rotunda. 
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Achtung, you folks in Gov. Rick Scott's office: Quite a story just in from the Virgin Islands.

Acting Attorney General Terri Griffiths told executives of The Virgin Islands Daily News on Thursday morning that she will prosecute the newspaper on criminal charges because of its telephone calls to obtain comment and information from her.

Bet you guys haven't thought of that one yet.

"I'll be filing criminal charges against you," Griffiths said as she abruptly left a meeting at The Daily News' offices on St. Thomas.

Griffiths' departure concluded a volatile session in which she accused The Daily News of harassing her by calling her cellphone after business hours to seek her comment on news events.

She also claimed that a quote attributed to her in a story published Wednesday had been "fabricated." The quote she specified was: "I will not comment on the Parole Board hearings."

Copy-cat Florida lawsuit, anyone?

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Running for the Florida Senate seat currently held by Sen. Charles Dean, R-Inverness, in 2016, Rep.Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala, made his case to conservatives on Tuesday at the start of the new legislative session.

“While some laws are good and necessary, many are not,” Baxley noted on Tuesday. “Thousands of bills are filed every year and only a small percentage are actually passed. I believe this is a good thing! My goal in Tallahassee is not to pass more legislation to regulate your lives, but to kill bills!”

Baxley voted to “do all I can to protect faith, family, freedom and opportunity” during the session.

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U.S. Rep. Dan Webster, R-Fla., rallied his supporters behind Israel on Tuesday, praising
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to Congress and warning about the dangers of a nuclear Iran.

“Israel is one of the United States’ greatest allies and is a vital stronghold for democracy in the Middle East,” Webster emailed supporters on Tuesday night. “I was disappointed that several of my Democratic colleagues chose to boycott this speech, as I believe the possibility of a nuclear Iran is a matter of life and death. With the next deadline in the Iran negotiations only weeks away, it was important for Congress and the American people to hear directly from the Israeli leader about his nation’s concerns over its security. I share the prime minister’s strong concern over the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran and the grave threat it would pose to the security of Israel, our nation, and our allies around the world.

“Unfortunately, President Obama derided Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call for solidarity against a nuclear Iran as ‘destructive.’ I take a different view,” Webster added. “I see Iran for what it is: a persistent human rights abuser who has declared their desire to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. That’s not a negotiating partner. That’s an enemy deserving of nothing more than our constant vigilance.

“I stand with Israel,” Webster continued. “Regrettably there are those in Congress and those who seek to join its ranks that do not. Those voices are not the majority now and cannot become the majority ever.

“Allowing Iran to have a nuclear weapon would translate into unthinkable tragedy for Israel and the United States,” Webster concluded. “We must work to protect our allies.”

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The Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) launched the “Florida Mineral Rights Working Group” as they look to further energy exploration across the Sunshine State.

“AIF has been engaged in Florida’s energy industry for decades, including running the successful Florida Energy Coalition (FEC),” said former U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla., the president and CEO of AIF. “While AIF has a long history of advocating for increased, responsible oil and gas exploration and production in the Sunshine State, we are re-energizing our efforts on this front because of the renewed focus on Florida’s onshore oil and gas resources. As such, we are proud to announce the formation of the Florida Mineral Rights Working Group, which will operate under the FEC.

“The goal of this newly-formed working group will be to help secure a fair and consistent regulatory framework in the state for operators and mineral owners, while also ensuring standards are in place to protect Florida’s environment, our natural resources and our water supply,” Feeney added. “This will undoubtedly allow companies and landowners currently in this industry space to grow, while encouraging new companies to enter the state -- the end result of which will be more jobs for Floridians, more revenue for the state, and greater oversight of oil and gas exploration and production activities.”

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A bill to protect racing greyhounds became the first bill to pass the Florida Senate during this year's legislative session on Tuesday. 

The bill, titled the “Victoria Q. Gaetz 22 Racing Greyhound Protection Act" would require racetrack owners to report greyhound injuries to the state via a signed form within seven days of when the injury occurs. The form would be required to be completed and signed under oath. 

The bill was named in honor of former Senate President Don Gaetz's wife. Gaetz co-sponsored the bill, which was filed by Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood.

According to the bill, racetrack owners will be required to report the greyhound's name, its right- and left-ear tattoo numbers, the name and address of the greyhound's owner, the dog's height, weight and color, as well as the type of injury sustained and the anticipated recovery time.

For injuries sustained during a race, owners would be required to submit the location, distance, grade, race and weather conditions when the race occurred. 

This is a breaking story. Check back for updates.

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Americans for Prosperity’s (AFP) Florida chapter announced its “Five for Florida” legislative agenda on Monday, backing Gov. Rick Scott’s $670 million tax cut proposal while continuing to oppose public dollars being used for luring movie projects to the Sunshine State or to be spent on sports complexes.

"Americans for Prosperity will once again be the primary thorn in the side of any lawmaker, Republican or Democrat, who places special interests and the tax-and-spend status quo above the taxpayers they were elected to represent,” said Chris Hudson, AFP’s director in Florida. “Our Five for Florida agenda identifies the specific bills that will expand or reduce the size of government and make it easier or harder for Floridians to earn a living and achieve the American dream. As multiple politicians have already learned this session, AFP has no intention to stay quiet when Tallahassee redistributes tax dollars to Hollywood fat cats and sports arena owners. In each issue area we will help our 137,000 activists have a voice in the debates that impact their opportunity and prosperity. Politicians, be on watch: AFP is active across the state building a constituency for economic freedom and limited government."

AFP’s agenda can be read here.

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U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., took to the House floor on Monday to insist the Obama administration deter Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Ross traced over recent history from the Iranian hostage crisis to the 1983 Beirut bombing which killed more than 300 Marines and insisted the Islamic extremists running Iran cannot be trusted.

“Iran is the lead sponsor of radical Islamic terrorism throughout the world today, including sleeper cells in the United States,” Ross said. “Just last week, Iran's Revolutionary Guard staged war games in the Strait of Hormuz, including a gunboat attack on a model U.S. warship. During the exercise, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini proclaimed that ‘Americans are ready to be buried at the bottom of the water.’

“My point is that Iran has a ruthless track record of terrorizing the West, including the United States,” Ross added. “Let’s be perfectly clear: Iran wants to destroy America – as they proclaim each year on November 4th and as they demonstrated last week during their training attack on a mock U.S. naval carrier.”

Ross also noted that Iran continued to want to eradicate Israel.

“Recently, I had the privilege of traveling to Israel and meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu,” Ross said. “During my visit, the prime minister and I discussed in great detail the threat posed by Iran to Israel and the region. Iran openly declares its intention to destroy the state of Israel. Today, Iran has the largest and most diverse missile arsenal in the Middle East. The missiles are capable of carrying nuclear and chemical weaponry with a range of 1,500 miles. With bared teeth Iran, in conjunction with North Korea, is developing a longer-range nuclear missile capable of reaching the United States in just a few years.

“I am deeply concerned about the current round of negotiations between President Obama and Iran,” Ross continued. “The current deal coming out of the White House would allow Iran to continue to develop nuclear weapons after 10 years. A long-term deal that allows Iran to develop nuclear capabilities only strengthens the hand of Iran and fortifies their determination to destroy Israel and dominate the Middle East, the Muslim World and the entire globe, including the United States.

“Iran says its nuclear program is entirely for peaceful purposes and not aimed at developing nuclear weapons. However...history is replete with examples that argue quite the opposite. Iran is not our friend,” Ross added. “Iran should never be allowed to develop nuclear weapons.”

Ross noted that Netanyahu would be speaking to Congress on Tuesday night and said he was looking forward to hearing the Israeli prime minister “detail his opposition to this agreement that would grant Iran a license to develop nuclear weapons.”

Ross concluded by warning Obama not to make a deal with Iran and to stand with Israel.

“President Obama cannot unilaterally implement this dangerous plan,” Ross insisted. “Congress has a responsibility to prevent this foreign-policy disaster from occurring. We must stand firmly with Israel. Unless Iran is willing to forego its entire nuclear program, the United States should not ease sanctions and should not allow Iran to become a nuclear state.”

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Testing for the writing portion of the Florida Standards Assessment resumed on Tuesday after a tumultuous first day of testing left many students unable to log in or complete the test. 

Complaints of a lagging computer system arose Monday, forcing some districts to reschedule the test. Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart said Monday the Florida Department of Education would be working to resolve the technical issues.

On Tuesday morning, Stewart told district superintendents the issues had been resolved and testing could resume.

Some schools were still having issues as of Tuesday morning, however. According to the Hillsborough County School District, some schools were still experiencing issues and were told to stop testing for the day. 

According to the company providing the test, nearly all tests started Monday -- around 68,000 of 69,000 -- were successfully completed.

The FSA writing test will be administered until March 13.
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On Friday, U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, R-Fla., came out swinging at the Obama administration’s efforts to crack down on green tip ammunition.

Rooney brought out his Protecting Second Amendment Rights Act” on Friday. The bill would ensure the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) and other federal agencies won’t be able to ban the manufacturing and sale of 5.56 mm/.223 caliber M855 green tip ammo which are commonly used in hunting. The ATF recently proposed to stop the manufacturing and sale of that kind of ammunition.

“The Obama administration’s proposal would unilaterally strip law-abiding hunters and sportsmen of their Second Amendment rights,” Rooney said. “Congress has made its intentions clear that this ammunition is for sporting purposes and should not be restricted. We cannot and we will not stand by while the Obama administration tramples on the Constitution, the rule of law, and the Second Amendment rights of hunters in my district and across the country.”

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This photo showing Florida at night was taken by the NASA Expedition 41 crew and today it's splashed all over social media. Check out below the Everglades -- almost light-pollution free.

Florida at night from Space
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On Wednesday, Florida’s two U.S. senators -- Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio -- joined together with eight other senators to introduce a bill updating the U.S. State Department’s Rewards for Justice Program offering up to $5 million for information on the murder of four Americans by Islamic State (IS) terrorists.

Nelson and Rubio were joined in introducing the measure by the two senators from Arizona: Republicans Jeff Flake and John McCain; the two senators from Indiana, Republican Dan Coats and Democrat Joe Donnelly; and the two senators from New Hampshire, Republican Kelly Ayotte and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, is also sponsoring the measure as the government looks for information on IS terrorists who killed James Foley, Steven Sotloff, Abdul-Rahman (Peter) Kassig and Kayla Mueller. The bill also includes other Americans killed by IS terrorists and would ensure members of IS or other terrorist groups cannot collect the money.

“The fight against ISIL hit home for Floridians when Steven Sotloff, an American journalist from Florida, was brutally murdered at the hands of these radical Islamic extremists,” said Rubio. “We must ensure that the barbaric murders of Steven, James Foley, Abdul-Rahman Peter Kassig and Kayla Mueller do not go unanswered. This bill is a clear message to ISIL and terrorists everywhere that America will not rest until justice is served.”

“This is a truly barbaric group that must be stopped,” said Nelson. “And offering rewards for information leading to the capture of those responsible for these heinous crimes against Americans will ultimately help bring them to justice.”

U.S. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., is backing a similar bill in the House.


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Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order Tuesday to suspend a standardized test for Florida's 11th-graders, prompting state lawmakers to weigh in on the elimination of the Florida Standards Assessment English-language arts assessment.

The test was supposed to be given this spring. 

"Governor Scott's executive order shows that he values feedback from Florida's teachers and parents and will take action necessary to ensure students are prepared for success," said State Board of Education Chair Gary Chartrand. 

Chartrand was joined in his approval of Scott's executive order by various superintendents from across the state.

"Eliminating this unnecessary assessment is an important step to keep Florida at the forefront for public education," said Orange County School Superintendent Barbara Jenkins.

“With the elimination of this test, teachers and parents can know that our first priority is ensuring students are provided with the time and resources needed to get a great education," said Escambia County Superintendent Malcolm Thomas.

"Commissioner Stewart's investigation confirmed what we've been hearing -- there is too much testing -- and I am pleased that the governor's executive order provides students, teachers, school administrators and parents relief from this non-essential assessment," said Florida Association of School Administrators Executive Director Juhan Mixon.
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U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., weighed in on President Barack Obama’s plan to offer more regulations on the Internet on Thursday. Obama’s “net neutrality” proposal is before the Federal Communications Commission on Thursday where it is expected to pass on a 3-2 vote.

Bilirakis, who sits on the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology wrote an op-ed at Fox News opposing Obama’s plan. The op-ed can be read here.

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Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., announced on Wednesday he was keeping former Miami Mayor Maurice Ferre and former Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commissioner Kenneth Wright on the Florida Transportation Commission.

When first named by Scott to the Transportation Commission in 2011, Ferre ranked as one of the most high-profile Democrats appointed by the Republican governor. Ferre had broken with his party to back Scott during the 2010 election cycle, backing the Republican candidate over Democratic nominee Alex Sink.

Born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, Ferre served in the Florida House during the 1960s. He served as mayor of Miami from 1975 until 1983 and later served on the Miami-Dade County Board of Commissioners. Ferre’s most recent attempts at political comebacks have not been successful, failing in a bid to be mayor again in 2001 and carrying 5 percent in the 2010 Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate.

Both Ferre and Wright will serve until September 2018.

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Florida Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, was named as the “Legislator of the Year” by the National Black Caucus of State Legislators (NBCSL), a group which represents almost 675 lawmakers from 46 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The NBCSL praised Williams for his work on extending voter hours, his efforts to ensure the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles educates Floridians on drowsy driving and his role in the creation of a Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

“We are delighted to present this award to a legislator who has stood with us for so many years,” said Tennessee state Rep. Joe Armstrong. “Representative Williams is a tireless advocate for civil rights in his home state of Florida and across the entire nation.”

“I am grateful to NBCSL, an organization that has made a significant impact in the lives of millions (of) Americans,” Williams said. “It is such an honor to be presented with the Legislator of the Year award. This recognition underscores the hard work of all our members whose core values will continue to propel our organization.”

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Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart announced Tuesday the 10 other members of a new committee to review the Florida Standards Assessment as well as tackling education issues for the next year.

Stewart's announcement comes after Gov. Rick Scott signed an executive order to suspend the state's 11th-grade English-language arts assessment test, which was set to be administered this spring.

Members of the Keep Florida Learning Committee will include:

-- Education Commissioner Pam Stewart

-- 2015 Florida Teacher of the Year: Christie Bassett, Polk County

-- Legislator: Rep. Manny Díaz Jr., R-Hialeah

-- Principal: Dr. Margaret Fahringer, Miami-Dade County

-- Teacher: Doris Garcia, Orange County

-- Parent: Julia Hendricks, Pasco County

-- School Board member: Patty Hightower, Escambia County

-- Higher Education participant: Joe Pickens, Putnam County

-- Superintendent: Dr. Owen Roberts, Alachua County

-- Legislator: Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland

-- Parent: Laura Zorc, Indian River County.

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U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., one of the senior members of the U.S. House Trade Subcommittee, toured Asia last week as part of a trade mission led by U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and highlighted the importance of free trade.

Buchanan talked with leaders from Japan, Singapore and Malaysia about the proponed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). During his time in Asia, Buchanan met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak and Singapore President Tony Tan.

"Increasing America’s access to foreign markets is critical to growing the U.S economy and creating jobs," Buchanan said on Wednesday. "After meeting with our regional allies in Asia, I am more committed than ever to reaching a fair agreement that is good for Florida and restores America's rightful standing as the world's global leader."

Buchanan noted Japan is standing in the way of TPP due to not wanting to allow free trade in the agricultural sector, though he was hopeful an agreement could be reached. The Florida congressman also urged President Barack Obama to round up more Democrats behind free-trade agreements.

"Bipartisan trade agreements could serve as an excellent example of what Washington can accomplish when both parties come together to help create jobs and increase America’s competitiveness in the global marketplace," Buchanan said.

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U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., has been an advocate for the Keystone XL Pipeline, even comparing it to the transcontinental railroad of the 19th century. On Tuesday, Yoho ripped into President Barack Obama for vetoing a bill authorizing the Keystone XL.

“The president has made his decision and that is to stand in the way of the American people,” Yoho said. “Over 60 percent of Americans want to see the Keystone XL Pipeline built and that doesn’t seem to matter to this president. Not only was this a no to the people, it was a no to job creation, and a no to energy independence. Despite this setback today, I will continue to do my job and vote to send bills to the president’s desk that improve the lives of working Americans, create jobs, and strengthen our economy.”

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U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., the chairman of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was in South Florida on Tuesday to meet with U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Esteban Bovo regarding transportation issues in the region.

“I had a productive conversation with Chairman Shuster and Commissioner Bovo where we discussed the important transportation and infrastructure issues facing South Florida,” Curbelo said after the meeting. “With the area’s rapid growth and development in recent years, congestion issues have become a growing concern. Chairman Shuster, Commissioner Bovo, and I are in agreement that in order for Miami-Dade County and the region to continue growing and attracting new businesses, we need to put in place solutions to solve these congestion concerns. It was an honor to host Chairman Shuster in the district to discuss these important issues with Commissioner Bovo and I look forward to working with them both in the future to increase Miami-Dade County and our region’s economic potential. ”

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U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., part of the Republican leadership as senior deputy majority whip, slammed President Barack Obama for vetoing the Keystone XL Pipeline on Tuesday.

“It is unacceptable that President Obama continues to obstruct the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline," Ross said. “This project has broad bipartisan support, not only within the halls of Congress, but also across the country. It will create tens of thousands of jobs and reduce our dependence on foreign energy. By vetoing this legislation, the president has put his political agenda before the needs of everyday Americans.”

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President Barack Obama hits Florida on Wednesday and state Rep. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) said on Tuesday that he would be wise to study Gov. Rick Scott’s playbook.

“When President Obama arrives in beautiful Miami tomorrow, our governor, Rick Scott, will be there to welcome him,” Ingoglia said on Tuesday afternoon. “On the flight down, we invite the president to examine the ‘Florida Record’ since Gov. Scott began our ‘Florida Comeback,’ which includes creating more than 728,500 jobs over the last four years, an unemployment rate of 5.6 percent and record tourism.

“We also invite the president to examine the work of our Republican Florida Legislature and Cabinet, who prove that budgeting with the mindset that it is the taxpayer’s money, not their own, promotes responsible growth and a stronger economy,” Ingoglia added. “With the level of success we’ve seen here in the Sunshine State, maybe President Obama should look to Florida as an example of what can, and should, be done.

“As the national debt reaches more than $18 trillion, we hope the president enjoys our sunshine, the hospitality of the people of Miami and learning about the successful record of Florida Republicans,” said Ingoglia in conclusion.

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President Barack Obama is heading to sunny Miami Wednesday to talk about one of the more controversial issues in politics these days: immigration. 

Obama will be headlining an MSNBC/Telemundo town-hall style meeting at Florida International University, where he will take questions from social media users and attendees on the topic. Last week, a federal judge in Texas ruled Obams exceeded his presidential authority with an executive order to defer deportations for millions living in the U.S. illegally. 

 The administration said it would appeal the decision. 

Obama will be greeted by Gov. Rick Scott at the Miami-Dade International airport before the town hall meeting.
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President Barack Obama vetoed a bill to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline from Canada on Tuesday.

"The presidential power to veto legislation is one I take seriously," Obama said in his veto message to the Senate. "But I also take seriously my responsibility to the American people. And because this act of Congress conflicts with established executive branch procedures and cuts short thorough consideration of issues that could bear on our national interest -- including our security, safety, and environment -- it has earned my veto.

"Through this bill, the United States Congress attempts to circumvent longstanding and proven processes for determining whether or not building and operating a cross-border pipeline serves the national interest," said Obama.

Republicans were supportive of the Keystone XL project because of its potential to be a hub for job creation, but Obama and Democrats have questioned whether the project affects climate change. Environmentalists heavily opposed the project due to carbon emissions, the greenhouses gases blamed for global warming.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the Republican-led Senate would attempt to overturn the veto by next week.  
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More than 50 Republicans in the U.S. House, led by U.S. Rep. Jim Bridenstine, R-Okla., are urging the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee to reject President Barack Obama’s nomination of Loretta Lynch as U.S. attorney general.

Bridenstine sent a letter to the Judiciary Committee and three congressmen from Florida -- Republican U.S. Reps. Ron DeSantis, Dan Webster and Ted Yoho -- signed on.

“The top law enforcement official in the land must be willing to enforce the law, independent of administration politics,” said Bridenstine this week. “The testimony of Loretta Lynch demonstrated an unwillingness to depart from the politicization of justice we have seen from Eric Holder. The Senate has a constitutional obligation not to confirm her. This starts in the Senate Judiciary Committee.”

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U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., came out swinging against President Barack Obama’s call for Net neutrality and an increasingly regulated Internet.

On Tuesday, Buchanan said if the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) votes on Thursday to implement the new regulations, he would lead the fight in Congress to overturn the decision. The FCC is expected to vote 3-2 on Thursday to implement the new regulations.

"The Internet is working fine,” Buchanan said. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

“As the FCC prepares to assert absolute government control of the Internet, Congress should do everything possible to stop this outrageous power grab.” Buchanan said. “The last thing we need are unelected bureaucrats destroying the concept of a free and fair Internet.”

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Ashley Parker over at the New York Times is reporting that U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is telling supporters that “he is committed to running for president, not re-election to the Senate” in 2016 despite former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., also expected to run for the Republican nomination.

Parker writes:

Rubio is racing ahead like a man gearing up for a presidential run. His mini-tour for “American Dreams” — his new book, which reads like a blueprint of policy prescriptions for a presidential bid — has taken him through the first four nominating states in the 2016 Republican primary season.

And though he is not expected to make any official announcement until April, he is quietly telling donors that he is committed to running for president, not re-election to the Senate. (During a stop in Las Vegas, Mr. Rubio met privately with Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate and major Republican donor. Neither Mr. Rubio nor Mr. Adelson’s team would comment on what the two men had discussed.)

At a seminar last month hosted by the billionaire brothers Charles G. and David H. Koch, Mr. Rubio impressed the powerful crowd. Later, at a panel convened by Frank Luntz, the Republican pollster, donors by a show of hands said Mr. Rubio had overwhelmingly performed the best among the 2016 hopefuls invited.

Mr. Rubio’s team, as well as other Republican operatives and donors, point out that Mr. Rubio, while not as well known among voters as some of his potential rivals, is generally well liked and in the top tier when it comes to favorability.

“We keep talking about growing the tent of the Republican Party and bringing in new folks,” said Spencer Zwick, Mitt Romney’s longtime finance chief, who is now a coveted Republican operative. “I think Marco can be a candidate to bring that excitement and energy needed to win a general election.”

Mr. Rubio’s personal story — that as the son of immigrant parents, a bartender and a maid, he wants the next generation to have the same opportunities he enjoyed — resonates with voters in an emotional way, Mr. Luntz said. On income inequality, which is shaping up to be one of the major issues of 2016, Mr. Luntz added: “Other candidates can talk about it. He actually lived it.”

The full article can be read here.

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Nate Cohn over at the New York Times makes the case that former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., has one major factor helping his chances to become the Republican presidential nominee: the collapse of Gov. Chris Christie, R-N.J.

Cohn argues that moderate and liberal Republicans play a major role in primaries, even in large states like California and New York which will back Democrats in the general elections. One of the states Cohn notes where moderate and liberal Republicans play a major role might be small but it casts a large shadow in presidential primaries: New Hampshire. Cohn contrasts Bush’s chances with conservative primary voters divided between several GOP contenders.

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The Florida Chamber will be hosting its annual Board of Governors Capitol Days in Tallahassee next week, tackling a number of the hottest topics in the Sunshine State.

The Board of Governors Capitol Days will be held March 4-6 at the Turnbull Center at Florida State University.

The event will include speakers scheduled to talk about key topics such as Florida’s long-term water policy as well as the Florida Chamber’s plan for smarter health care coverage and solutions to change Florida’s title as a “judicial hellhole.”

Governor John McKernan Jr., president U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation and former governor of Maine, and J.D. Foster, Ph.D., deputy chief economist, U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, will deliver the keynote address. 

Other speakers will include Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Senate President Andy Gardiner and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

View the full agenda here.
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The Florida Department of Education named the top principal and assistant principal of 2015 Monday at the Commissioner's Summit for Principals in Orlando.

Candidates were nominated by the superintendent from their respective school district. 

The winner of the state's top principal went to Dr. Angela Murphy-Osborne of Palmetto Elementary School in Orange County. Murphy-Osborne raised the grade of her elementary school from an "F" to an "A" in just a single year. She is also the current Orange County Principal of the Year.

The state's top assistant principal was Dustin Sims of Flagler Palm Coast High School (FPCH in Flagler County). Sims led FPCH in curriculum but also assisted in raising the school's letter grade from a "D" to an "A."  

In addition, Dustin Sims was honored with the Outstanding Assistant Principal Achievement Award. Sims led the the awards recognizing outstanding school leaders who have increased student performance, promoted safe learning environments and established successful partnerships with parents and community members.

“I am honored to be recognized among outstanding peers, and I have a great appreciation for Flagler County schools,” said Sims on Monday. “I will never forget the lesson taught to me my first year in administration by Superintendent Oliva: ‘Managers manage things, leaders lead people.’ I have tried my best to follow that lesson and allow myself each day the privilege of leading others by serving them."

Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart called the two "shining examples" of making students and quality education a top priority.

“These outstanding principals and assistant principals are models of exceptional leadership, and possess the vision and motivation necessary to provide an outstanding education in Florida schools," she said. 

The recipient of the 2015 Principal of the Year was awarded a cash prize of $5,000 and an exclusive overnight stay at the Cinderella Castle Suite inside the Magic Kingdom Park, along with theme park admission for the winner and his or her guests provided by Disney Youth Programs. The Assistant Principal of the Year received a cash prize of $2,500 and a weekend resort stay at the Walt Disney World Resort and theme park admission, also courtesy of Disney Youth Programs.

The Principal Achievement Award for Outstanding Leadership was established in 1988 to recognize Florida principals for their contributions to their schools and communities. The Outstanding Assistant Principal Achievement Award was established in 1997 to honor assistant principals that have utilized teamwork and leadership to increase student achievement and greatly improved school environments.

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