Sunshine State News Blogs

Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange, unveiled three bills to cut taxes on Friday.

Noting Florida was ranked as the fourth highest wireless taxes in the nation in a recent study from the Tax Foundation, Hukill is, like she did last year, looking to roll back communications taxes.

"These taxes are paid every month and when combined with federal taxes, are an extreme burden on Florida's families and businesses," Hukill said.

Hukill is also looking to cut the commercial lease sales tax by 1 percent and raising the corporate income subject to taxation from $50,000 to $75,000.

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Gov. Rick Scott announced on Friday that the Sunshine State saw 32,000 new jobs in October as the state unemplyment rate dropped to 6 percent from 6.1 percent in September.

“Today’s announcement that Florida has added 32,000 private-sector jobs is great news as we continue our work to ensure that every Floridian who wants a job can get one,” Scott said on Friday. “Since December 2010, Florida has added 679,000 private-sector jobs, and it is clear that we are succeeding in creating an opportunity economy that supports families.”

When Scott took office at the start of 2011, the unemployment rate stood at 11.1 percent.

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From her perch as chairwoman of the U.S. House Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., held a hearing on “Examining What a Nuclear Iran Deal Means for Global Security" on Thursday. Ros-Lehtinen came out swinging at the hearing, insisting a nuclear deal for Iran would undermine security. The Florida Republican also hammered the Obama administration’s handling of Iran.

Ros-Lehtinen said the following:

“We are now just a few days away from the Iran nuclear deadline. And the P5+1 appears poised to accept a weak deal with a regime that cannot be trusted. Despite approximately $14 billion in direct sanctions relief, as well as incalculable indirect benefits to the Iranian economy and the nuclear program, Iran has repeatedly stated that it will never stop enriching uranium or take one step back in its research and development. Despite a four-month extension of talks and allowing Iran access to an additional $700 million of its blocked currency each month, Iran’s Supreme Leader two weeks ago called for the destruction of our greatest ally in the Middle East, the democratic Jewish state of Israel. Iran recently claimed its ballistic missiles are capable of razing Israeli cities and American military bases in the region to the ground. Iran has called for Palestinian incitement against Israel, the result of which can be seen in the tragic murders two days ago of five Israelis, three of whom were U.S. citizens, in a Jerusalem synagogue as they were praying.

From the very outset, Iran has not complied with the terms outlined by the P5+1, exporting more oil than allowed, continuing production at the Arak heavy water reactor, denying access to key facilities, and dragging its feet every step of the way. The International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed that Iran isn’t even cooperating with its past commitments, such as completely disclosing its past work on nuclear weaponization. Rouhani, who bragged in the past about deceiving the administration as its chief negotiator, is known for using stall tactics while continuing to advance Iran’s nuclear weapons program behind the scenes. And our leadership in the White House falls for it.

The administration turns a blind eye to Iran’s support of terrorism, its constant threats against the United States and our allies, and its failure to cooperate even during this negotiation period. It ignores every lesson we thought we learned when North Korea delayed its way into a nuclear weapon. President Obama even sends secret letters to the Supreme Leader, naively hoping to appeal to the rational side of a man who has proven himself to be anything but. The Iranians have made clear that no matter what a final deal contains, they will not stop enrichment and will not allow access to sites like Parchin and who knows how many other covert sites.

As General Hayden has stated, because of the covert nature of Iran’s activities, American intelligence alone will not be able to verify the agreement, and if he would still be advising the president, he would tell him that this deal could not be adequately verified. Iran must be completely transparent about its current and past programs, including its weaponization efforts, and accept snap inspections anywhere, anytime. But experience and the track record tells us that Iran will not do so. It is impossible to verify Iran’s nuclear program because, as the Defense Science Board report has said, the capability to detect Iran’s undeclared or covert nuclear sites is either inadequate or does not exist.

Finally, this administration has misunderstood the point of sanctions – sanctions that Congress worked hard to build – from the very beginning. The sanctions regime that Congress put into place was designed to work together, the sanctions are interconnected to target not just the nuclear program but Iran’s ballistic weapons program and human rights abuses as well. The P5+1 has allowed Iran’s economy to grow, its currency to strengthen, and has provided a dangerous amount of concessions and sanctions relief to the regime based only on its nuclear program. And they have given Iran the time and money it needs to be more resilient and even better able to weather sanctions in the future. The effect of sanctions takes time and cannot be easily re-implemented once lifted or once suspended.

Yet all indications are that President Obama, if a final deal is reached, would seek to lift sanctions or use waiver authority provided within the sanctions laws. These waivers, however, are national security waivers. And it is not in the national security interest of the United States to provide Iran additional access to cash with which it can proliferate and expand its other illicit activities, specifically its support for global terror. Just last week, the president reissued a continuation of the National Emergency with respect to Iran, a status which has been in place since the Iran hostage crisis in 1979. It strains the imagination to see how the president can on one hand declare Iran as a national emergency yet on the other waive sanctions and say Iran is not a national security threat.

Congress needs to reclaim its sanctions authority from this administration and do everything it can to prevent this weak deal from happening. So let me be clear: no matter what the P5+1 does, Congress should not allow a deal that threatens our national security interests to stand, and we intend on repairing the damage that has been done as soon as possible. We must reinstate and expand sanctions and we must not allow Iran to get a nuclear bomb. Either the P5+1 secures a deal that includes the complete cessation of Iran’s enrichment and the full dismantling of its nuclear infrastructure, or it must walk away from these doomed talks altogether.”

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Lost in the shuffle over President Barack Obama’s actions on immigration, this week, former U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., announced he was forming an exploratory committee as he looks at running for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016. A graduate of the Navy Acaemy and a decorated Marine who saw service in Vietnam, Webb served as an assistant secretary of defense and as Navy secretary under President Ronald Reagan. Webb upset then-U.S. Sen. George Allen, R-Va., in 2006 but chose not to run for a second term.

“Is it possible that our next president could actually lay out a vision for the country, and create an environment where leaders from both parties and from all philosophies would feel compelled to work together for the good of the country, despite all of the money and political pressure that now demands they disagree?” Webb asked. “As one who spent four years in the Reagan administration but who served in the Senate as a Democrat, I believe it is possible. It is also necessary. We desperately need to fix our country, and to reinforce the values that have sustained us, many of which have fallen by the wayside in the nasty debates of the last several years. I hope you will consider joining me in that effort.

“Over the past few months, thousands of concerned Americans from across the political spectrum have urged me to run for president,” Webb added. “A constant theme runs through these requests. Americans want positive, visionary leadership that they can trust, at a time when our country is facing historic challenges. They’re worried about the state of our economy, the fairness of our complicated multicultural society, the manner in which we are addressing foreign policy and national security challenges, and the divisive, paralyzed nature of our government itself. They’re worried about the future. They want solutions, not rhetoric. I share every one of these concerns.”

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U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., offered a bill on Thursday to prevent President Barack Obama from using an executive order to allow illegals a path to stay in the nation. Yoho insisted Obama was overstepping what the executive branch can do and hopes his “Executive Amnesty Prevention Act" will cut him off at the pass.

“Article I, Section 8, Clause 4 gives Congress the ‘power to establish a uniform rule of naturalization,’ while Article II, Section 3 lays out clearly that ‘the president shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed,’” Yoho noted about the Constitution. “With the go-it-alone approach of the president on immigration, I felt it necessary to introduce this bill and stop the president from going around Congress and the American people. An executive ‘fix’ of the law is unconstitutional, temporary, and will establish a very dangerous precedent.

“Let’s be clear: Our immigration policy in America is broken and has been broken for a long time,” Yoho added. “Both Republicans and Democrats share responsibility for the current state of immigration in this country. That being said, now is not the time for the president to rule by fiat and go against the Constitution. Even the Washington Post, never a bastion of conservative reporting, has recommended the president not take this course of action.

“Yes, the president has prosecutorial discretion – in certain cases – but that does not mean he has the authority to provide blanket amnesty or pardons to 5 million illegal aliens,” Yoho said in conclusion. “I, along with the American people, want to fix our broken immigration system. But this fix must come from well-thought-out legislation that puts the needs of the country first. Once that is done, we can have open and honest debate in Congress to hammer out our differences. This is the way the framers of our Constitution intended our laws to be made. It is time to stop kicking the immigration can down the road. Let us come together, put the country first, and fix the issue of illegal immigration once and for all.”

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Florida Republican U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart have generally been supporters of immigration reform plans. Diaz-Balart has taken the lead in urging Republicans in the House to pass the “Gang of Eight’s" immigration reform bill that passed the Senate. But the two Republicans teamed up on Thursday night to release a statement, opposing President Barack Obama’s immigration actions. The statement is as follows:

As President Obama has stated, ‘I am president of the United States, not the emperor of the United States.’ He further stated that acting unilaterally is ‘ignoring the law in a way that I believe would be very difficult to defend legally.’ Now, the president says he has the authority to stop deportations. It begs the question – why did President Obama deport more than 2 million people, dividing families, when according to him it could have been avoided?

“While we agree on the merits of some of the announced measures, the president’s executive order makes it more difficult to pass a common-sense solution to our country’s broken immigration system. We continue to believe that we must find a bipartisan, legislative solution to strengthen our borders, offer a permanent and humane solution to those living in the shadows, adhere to the rule of law, modernize our antiquated visa system, and bolster the economy. None of this is accomplished by the president’s executive order.

“Shortly after this year’s election, President Obama said he was willing to work together with the new Congress. He has now clearly demonstrated that he has no intention of doing so. His actions will unfortunately further divide our country. We are committed to finding a bipartisan, legislative solution that will unite a majority of Congress and the American people on this critical issue.”

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President Barack Obama unveiled a new proposal on Thursday night on immigration, giving around 5 million illegals a path to stay in the United States without fear of deportation.

“Our immigration system is broken,” Obama said in a White House address on Thursday night. “Everybody knows it.”

Obama’s proposal offers a path to temporary residency to 5 million illegal immigrants if they register and pass a criminal background check. Under his action, illegal immigrants with children who are citizens, will be able to live and work in the U.S. for three years. It also shifts border security efforts against terrorists and criminals instead of illegals in general.

Pushing back against Republican critics, Obama noted former presidents used executive power on immigration reform and called on Congress to pass a bill. Obama also fired back on claims he is offering amnesty to illegal immigrants.

“I know some of the it amnesty. Well, it’s not,” Obama said. "Mass amnesty would be unfair. Mass deportation would be both impossible and contrary to our character. What I'm describing is accountability — a commonsense, middle ground approach.

"If you meet the criteria, you can come out of the shadows and get right with the law,” Obama insisted. “If you're a criminal, you'll be deported. If you plan to enter the U.S. illegally, your chances of getting caught and sent back just went up."

On Friday, Obama plans to rally support for his immigration plan in Las Vegas at an event with U.S. Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who will become minority leader when the GOP takes control of the Senate in January.

Obama’s plan drew the fire of Florida Republicans. U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a champion of immigration reform and part of the Senate's "Gang of Eight," said Obama's actions were not helping the cause.

“We need immigration reform," Rubio said. "But the right way to do it is to first bring illegal immigration under control by securing the borders and enforcing the laws, then modernizing our legal immigration system. After we do these things, we will eventually have to deal with those here illegally in a reasonable but responsible way. The president’s actions now make all of this harder and are unfair to people in our immigration system who are doing things the right way.”

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Gov. Rick Scott and Visit Florida announced on Thursday that 23.7 million tourists visited the Sunshine State during the third quarter of 2014, an increase of 3.5 percent from last year when 22.9 million tourists visited.

“Florida’s thriving tourism industry is vital to growing jobs, and today’s report that Florida has experienced three record quarters so far in 2014, putting the state on pace for a fourth consecutive record year, is great news for Florida families,” Scott said. “Tourism is a huge generator of jobs for our state and we invested $74 million into Visit Florida to create more opportunities for families.”

Florida is on pace for a record high year of tourism with 73.9 million visitors in the first three quarters of 2014. These tourists added $55.6 billion to the Florida economy, an increase of 7.3 percent from 2013, and created almost 40,000 new jobs.

“Florida tourism’s continued strength across all metrics indicates that we are well on our way to making Florida the No. 1 travel destination in the world,” said Will Seccombe, the president and CEO of Visit Florida.


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On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., unveiled the Keeping America Safe from Ebola Act of 2014 which would enact travel bans to nations the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) list as dealing with that disease. Rubio’s co-sponsors include fellow Republican Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, Mark Kirk of Illinois, Pat Roberts of Kansas and John Thune of South Dakota. The House version is being backed by U.S. Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa.

“Imposing travel restrictions is a common-sense approach to protecting Americans from Ebola,” said Rubio on Thursday. “Over the past few months, we’ve seen Ebola’s deadly reach, and air travel has proven to be its gateway to the United States.

“A temporary visa ban aims to limit the spread of Ebola by placing strict limitations on travel to the U.S. from Ebola-affected countries and protect Americans from any potential threats of an outbreak, but it does not mean that our efforts to combat the virus will stop there,” added Rubio. “America must remain committed to this international challenge by addressing it at its source and increasing our assistance to countries that continue struggling to contain this deadly outbreak. America will not be completely safe from Ebola until the virus is contained at its source.”

Rubio’s bill would suspend and revoke visas for individuals from what the CDC considers Ebola-infected or threatened nations excepting aid workers and military personnel.

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With President Barack Obama expected to announce on Thursday that he will executive power to grant amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., said the American people are against the idea.

“Someone is not listening, and he lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” Crenshaw said. “On November 4, I heard voters in Florida and across the nation say that they’re opposed to amnesty. They are the same voters who took their thinking to the ballot box, increasing Republican margins in the House and turning the United States Senate leadership over to the GOP because they are tired of the president circumventing the will of the people.

“I continue to stand alongside these Americans - 100 percent against amnesty,” Crenshaw continued. “But, our president does not. The very man who said 22 times that he could not ignore or create his own immigration laws wants to do exactly that by working around Congress. It’s astounding, but unfortunately, it’s not surprising.

“For President Obama, it’s a ‘my way or the highway’ approach. But to me, it’s unconstitutional, and I expect and support a challenge to it in Congress and the courts,” Crenshaw added. “No one can doubt that this country has to address the crisis of illegal immigration. It places tremendous financial and social burden on our society. Moreover, the surge at our border is proof that it is not secure, and, in my book, securing our borders is the number one priority. President Obama should work together with Congress to make this happen, not against it by putting millions of illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship with the stroke of a pen.”

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Gov. Rick Scott released a statement on Thursday following the shooting at the Florida State University (FSU) library in Tallahassee. Three students were wounded and police killed the gunmen.

Scott’s statement:

“Our prayers are with the families and loved ones of everyone touched by this tragedy. We still have a lot of questions that are unanswered.

“The police investigation will answer many of the questions we are asking today. But, just like any tragedy, the ultimate question of ‘why?’ will never have an answer that satisfies those whose loved ones have been injured or killed. For that reason, I am asking everyone on FSU’s campus and everyone across our state, and even the nation, to pray for FSU today. Pray for our state – and every student and family affected by this tragedy.

“Second, I want to thank the FSU Police Department and the Tallahassee Police Department for their quick response in keeping this campus safe. Because of your hard work and training – your response time was almost immediate and the campus is once again safe for students.

“While our hearts are broken for the injuries and the loss of life that occurred here last night, I have every confidence that FSU will become an even stronger campus as they come together and heal from this tragedy.

“The people of Florida, and especially those on our distinguished university campuses, are remarkable people. Everyone on this campus came here for a dream. They are dreaming of bigger and better things for their lives. They have careers they want to pursue; businesses they want to start; dreams of building a family … and that all starts right here with getting a great education at FSU.

“I know every Seminole has the heart of a dreamer. And, every dreamer is resilient. I look forward to seeing the FSU community all across our state and nation come together and lean on each other in the days ahead. And, I know the unparalleled leadership of President John Thrasher will be vital to this school’s healing and continued sense of pride and unity.

“In closing, I want to address the students on this campus: As a father of two daughters who both went away to college not too long ago, I can imagine the anxiety your parents are feeling today. Please take time to call them and let them know how you are doing. Talk to them about how this has affected you. If you don’t want to talk to your parents, please talk to someone at your church, synagogue or one of the consolers being organized by FSU.

“We live in a world today that is always moving on to the next thing. But, I want to encourage you to take time and process the tragedy that happened here last night and not simply ignore it. This will ultimately be the most important thing you can do to move forward, grow stronger, and appreciate each and every precious day given to us by God.

“Finally, I am planning to connect with the families of those students still in the hospital and hopefully visit them there later today. We will continue to release additional information as the results of the investigation develop.” 

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U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., will take over as chairman of the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development Appropriations.

“I am honored to have been chosen to chair the Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development,” Diaz-Balart said on Thursday. “I look forward to working with House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers and other committee members to best solve our nation’s transportation and housing issues. It is of utmost importance that we prioritize transportation initiatives that will improve our local communities, while also providing housing solutions for those most in need. I will work tirelessly to uphold the high standards established by former subcommittee chairmen, including the Honorable Tom Latham and our very own South Floridian, the Honorable Bill Lehman. I would like to thank Chairman Rogers for this opportunity and am grateful for his continued friendship and leadership.”

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Just elected to his first full term in the U.S. House, U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., was named to the Appropriations Committee.

‭“‬I am honored and humbled to be named to the Committee on Appropriations,” Jolly said on Thursday.‭ “‬It is the ultimate watchdog committee,‭ ‬scrutinizing virtually every federal program,‭ ‬identifying and eliminating duplicative federal services and areas of waste,‭ ‬fraud,‭ ‬and abuse.‭ ‬The committee is also the body that identifies areas of critical national investment from national security‭ ‬to early childhood education,‭ ‬to the environment,‭ ‬to transportation and infrastructure.‭ ‬And finally,‭ ‬the committee is the place of first response within the Congress to national emergencies like hurricanes and natural disasters,‭ ‬and matters of international conflict and war.

‭“‬Over the next two years,‭ ‬Congress and the president will be looking for areas to work together but will naturally face areas of strong but constructive disagreement,” Jolly added. “As a guardian of taxpayer dollars,‭ ‬I look forward to working with the other committee members in a transparent way to protect taxpayers‭’ ‬interests."

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Florida House Democratic Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, named some of his leadership team on Wednesday. Pafford leads a diminished Democratic caucus as six House incumbents lost in the elections held earlier in the month and Republicans have a veto-proof majority.

Pafford named Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, who was returned to the House by Broward County voters, as Democratic policy chair. Rep. David Richardson, D-Miami Beach, will be floor leader while Rep. Clovis Watson, D-Alachua, will be the whip.

“We’re a good team. All of us in the Democratic Caucus will be more effective with these members in these important posts,” Pafford said. “House Democrats depend on each other and we all can lean on these lawmakers. The different routes they’ve taken to the Legislature, and the experiences they have, make them able leaders. They’ll be a huge help to me and Rep. Jones.”

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U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, will have a busy Thanksgiving season since his “Achieving a Better Life Experience Act” (ABLE Act) will hit the House floor in early December. Crenshaw’s bill would create tax-free savings accounts for disabled Americans .

“The ABLE Act is headed for a vote in December – testament to the widespread support for millions who face the daily struggle of living with disabilities,” Crenshaw said on Wednesday. “They deserve the same financial planning tools available to other Americans. My bill gives them just that by empowering families to live healthy and independent lives through tax-free savings accounts.

“Step-by-step with focus and teamwork, ABLE has earned more bipartisan, bicameral support than any other bill in Congress, and I’m excited for its passage,” Crenshaw added. “Easing financial strains through tax-free savings accounts for qualified expenses such as medical, post-secondary education, housing, and transportation, the ABLE Act would provide a brighter future for millions of Americans.

“No longer would they have to stand by and watch others use Internal Revenue Service-sanctioned tools that are unavailable to them,” Crenshaw continued. “The playing field would finally be level. It creates incentives to employment for individuals with disabilities by allowing them to contribute to their own ABLE accounts and seek out employment opportunities without the fear of losing benefits.”

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U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., the vice chairman of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs, testified in front of the House Veterans Affairs Subcommittee on Health on Wednesday about giving veterans more medical choices. Bilirakis showcased his “Creating Options for Veterans’ Expedited Recovery (COVER) Act” in his testimony which includes alternative therapies in VA care.

“While it is vital that veterans receive the care they need, it is equally important to recognize that one size does not fit all when discussing treatments for veterans,” Bilirakis said. “The invisible wounds they sustain serving our country are just as serious as physical ones. While many veterans may thrive under traditional plans and medical care, some may not be as responsive. We need to provide veterans with choices and easy access to alternative forms of therapies that work best for them.

“The COVER Act will ascertain the viability of alternative treatments, providing a pathway forward that will eventually allow veterans to have a range of options for mental health treatments. such as outdoor sports therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, accelerated resolution therapy, and service dog therapy,” Bilirakis added.

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After Adrian Wyllie took 4 percent in the Florida gubernatorial earlier this month, the state Libertarian Party is looking to expand and become a major party.

Danielle Alexandre, who was Wyllie’s campaign manager, sent out an email to supporters late on Wednesday focusing on the future.

“Our team has been working since the election on some exciting new initiatives and projects. Liberty needs a voice in Tallahassee and it is upon all of us to ensure that it gets there,” Alexandre wrote. “We have devised an approach that works on both sides of the political spectrum. One aspect will be through the Libertarian Party of Florida, the other will be to go directly to Tallahassee with our message. These are both desperately needed to interject some common-sense solutions into our government but also change the landscape for future principled candidates.

“This election showed that some of the barriers known to third-party candidates can be broken through, but it was not enough,” Alexandre added. “While we were ending the media blackout and the campaign was making history in fundraising and support, the inclusion into the debates was critical.

“This is why Adrian and our team has started the 5 percent project,” Alexandre continued. “In the state of Florida, a party whose registration numbers make up 5 percent of the voting public is considered a major party. That would mean that the Libertarian Party of Florida would be seen on an even playing field with the Republicans and Democrats. Our candidates will have to be included in the debates, in the media coverage and will be listed with every county supervisor of elections office the same as the other two. In Florida, it will no longer be a two-party system but a three-party system.”

Alexandre urged supporters to join the party and looked at Wyllie’s new work as a lobbyist for the Liberty First Network.

“While we are building for the future, we must keep our voices heard in Tallahassee. That is why Adrian has joined the Liberty First Network as the newest lobbyist working toward a better Florida,” Alexandre wrote. “I know it's hard to think of a lobbyist doing something positive at all. but the Liberty First Network has been on the forefront on many of the same issues that we built this campaign on. Real ID, property rights, Common Core are all issues that the Liberty First Network has been advocating for the people of Florida and against the cronyism that has become rampant."


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On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., announced he was co-sponsoring U.S. Rep. Sam Johnson’s, R-Texas, bill to deny Social Security benefits to Nazi war criminals. Johnson unveiled the bill on Wednesday night. The “No Social Security for Nazis Act” will deny Social Security and other benefits to Nazis who have lost their American citizenship due to their actions in the 1930s and 1940s.

“No Social Security for Hitler’s henchmen,” Buchanan said. “At a time when our own war heroes are denied proper health care, it’s obscene that our government is rewarding former Nazis with Social Security benefits.”

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At a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., pressed Antony Blinken on U.S. policy toward Venezuela, Colombia and Cuba. Blinken is President Barack Obama’s nominee to be deputy secretary of state.

On Wednesday, Blinken said the administration backed Rubio’s “Venezuela Defense of Human Rights and Civil Society Act of 2014” which would impose sanctions on leaders of the Maduro regime.

But Rubio was less than happy with Blinken’s responses on Cuba and Colombia.

“I am encouraged that the Obama administration finally announced its support for legislation pending before the Senate that would impose visa and financial sanctions on individuals committing human rights abuses in Venezuela,” Rubio said after the hearing. “In addition to the visa freezes the administration is already implementing against such individuals, they should immediately freeze the financial assets of these individuals. With respect to Colombia, it is important that the U.S. make clear that Colombian drug traffickers serving in U.S. prisons will serve out their sentences, regardless of what demands may be made in negotiations with the FARC. On Cuba, I am very concerned that President Obama’s nominee to be John Kerry’s deputy at the Department of State passed up several opportunities today to categorically rule out the possibility of unilateral changes to U.S. policy toward Cuba. Unless Cuba begins an irreversible democratic transformation, the U.S. should not reward the Castro regime with unilateral concessions from us that enrich the regime and help it repress millions of Cubans.”

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U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., will stay as the ranking Democrat on the House Committee of Veterans Affairs despite drawing fire from veterans groups.  With the support of U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Brown dispatched a challenge from U.S. Rep. Tim Waltz, D-Minn.

“I am humbled and honored by the opportunity to serve as the ranking member of the House Committee on Veterans Affairs for the 114th Congress, and I wholeheartedly appreciate the support of my Democratic colleagues,” Brown said after being selected on Wednesday. “I am very much looking forward to serving our nation’s veterans in this new position and working to make sure these men and women get the care and benefits they earned through their service to our nation.

“During the upcoming session, some of the key issues I plan to address in committee include fully implementing the Veterans Access, Care and Affordability Act, and ensuring that our nation’s brave, returning soldiers have all the resources they need to transition to civilian life,” Brown added. “I will also continue my advocacy to get all of the VA Medical Centers opened as soon as possible.

“I look forward to working with our veteran stakeholders to ensure that the VA has the resources necessary to provide superior health care to our veterans, and in particular resources for our nation’s rapidly increasing population of women veterans,” Brown said in conclusion, promising to work with her chairman, U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla. “I also look forward to continuing to work with Chairman Miller and the rest of the committee in the upcoming 114th Congress. I am certain that the hard-working committee members will work hard to move meaningful legislation that will benefit our nation’s veterans.”

Brown’s retention drew the fire of Concerned Veterans for America. Pete Hegseth, the CEO of Concerned Veterans for America, labeled Brown as “an apologist for the status quo at the VA, and at worst totally detached from reality” as the VA deals with the aftermath of reports of altered waiting lists at medical facilities across the nation. In Phoenix, at least 40 veterans who were impacted by altered waiting lists died while waiting for treatment.

“Rep. Brown has consistently dismissed the pervasive problems at the VA in the face of overwhelming evidence of the department’s cultural and structural issues, including asserting immediately after the VA scandal that ‘we’re doing fine in Florida,’ when clinics in her district have some of the worst wait times in the nation,” insisted Hegseth.

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U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., part of the Republican leadership as senior deputy majority whip, came out swinging on Thursday morning against President Barack Obama’s plan to use executive power to grant amnesty to millions of illegal immigrants.

“Two weeks ago, President Obama stood before the American people and announced that he had heard the voters’ message,” Ross said on Thursday. “But the underlying meaning of the following statement proves that his agenda is contrary to what Americans desire: ‘Still, as president, I have a unique responsibility to try to make this town work.’ Actions speak louder than words, and the president’s ‘unique responsibility’ of ignoring the will of the American people, and circumventing the United States Congress, is the wrong course of action. If the president goes forward as planned, I suspect his ‘immigration reform’ will have the same negative outcome as his ‘health care reform.’

“I have repeatedly stated that the best way to address immigration reform is with incremental steps, with the first critical step being to secure our borders,” Ross added. “Instead, the president is headed to Las Vegas to gamble away our national security by granting massive amnesty rights while failing to secure our border. The president’s go-it-alone attitude will cause irreparable harm to any effort to reform our immigration system and ruin any chance of having a positive working relationship with Congress during his final two years in office. I implore President Obama to reconsider his executive action and instead work with Congress, and the majority of the American people, on a real solution.”

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A lone gunman made his way through a crowded library at Florida State University early Thursday morning, injuring three people before being shot and killed by campus police. 

The gunman has not been identified.

According to Tallahassee Police Department spokesperson David Northway, the shooter walked inside the entrance to FSU’s crowded Strozier Library around 12:30 a.m. and opened fire on people in the library. 

Three victims injured in the incident were all students.

One of the students is in critical condition, the other is in fair condition. The third student was grazed by a bullet but was treated and released at the scene. 

This is a breaking story. Check back for updates. 


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Some 20-plus communities in the nation, including the Seminole Tribe of Florida, will share out $600,000 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency money for training and technical assistance to help water utilities bolster their climate change resilience and readiness.

The EPA made its assistance announcement Wednesday.

“Climate change isn’t a distant threat -- it is already impacting communities across the country,” said Ken Kopocis, deputy assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Water. "EPA is helping water utilities plan for and adapt to these challenges to ensure that they can continue to meet their public health and environmental missions no matter what circumstances may arise in the future.”

Drinking water, wastewater and stormwater utilities will participate in a multi-year program to prepare for potential impacts from climate change. Challenges include droughts, more intense and frequent storms, flooding, sea-level rise and changes to water quality.

Communities will receive technical assistance in using EPA's Climate Resilience Evaluation and Awareness Tool. That's software that helps users identify assets, threats and "adaptation options" to help reduce risk from climate change.

Communities receiving assistance from EPA include -- 

  •  Auburn, Ala.
  •  Austin, Texas
  •  Blair, Neb.
  •  Bozeman, Mont.
  •  Faribault, Minn.
  •  Fredericktown, Mo.
  •  Haworth, N.J.
  •  Helena, Mont.
  •  Henryville, Ind.
  •  Hillsboro, Kan.
  •  Houston, Texas
  •  Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass.
  •  Nome, Alaska
  •  Norfolk, Va.
  •  Portsmouth, N.H.
  •  Redwood Valley, Calif.
  •  Sandpoint, Idaho
  •  Seminole Tribe of Florida

During each risk assessment, EPA claims, utilities will consider potential future climate change impacts in an effort to build more climate-ready and resilient water services and infrastructure. 

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U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., continues to go to bat for U.S. Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-La., as he looks to take down U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La.

“In Louisiana, Bill Cassidy is in a runoff with liberal Senator Mary Landrieu,” Rubio wrote supporters of his Reclaim America PAC on Wednesday. “National Democrats need Landrieu to win, or their hopes to stop our plan to repeal and replace Obamacare will take a huge hit. So I'm hitting the ground this week with Bill Cassidy. I'll be in Louisiana helping him get out the early vote and making sure we win this runoff.

“No matter where you are in the country, Louisiana matters,” Rubio added. “The larger our majority, the easier it will be to pass real conservative reforms that will help us restore the American dream.”

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The House Republican Steering Committee announced its recommended committee chairmen for the 114th Congress on Wednesday and U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller, R-Fla., will continue to preside over the Veterans Affairs Committee.

Miller had been angling to lead the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence but that post went to U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif.

“Today we face a sophisticated and determined terrorist enemy that is intent on killing more and more Americans, not to mention innocents around the globe,” said U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on Wednesday. “ We also face rogue states like Iran and North Korea that continue to thumb their noses at the United States. The world is becoming increasingly dangerous and the Intelligence Committee is vital to our efforts to protect the American people. Over the past four years, Devin has been instrumental in ensuring that our intelligence professionals have the resources they need to keep America safe. He has asked tough questions and conducted serious oversight to hold the Obama administration accountable. I look forward to working with him as the next chairman of the Intelligence Committee.”

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On Wednesday, after two Palestinian terrorists attacked a synagogue in Jerusalem, killing four rabbis, U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., the chairwoman of the Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa, took to the House floor. In her speech, Ros-Lehtinen called for ending federal taxpayer dollars going to the Palestinian Authority and groups with ties to Hamas.

“I rise today to express my deepest condolences to the families of the four Israelis – three of whom are also American citizens -- who were murdered by Palestinian terrorists in Jerusalem during morning prayers in a synagogue,” Ros-Lehtinen said on the House floor. “My thoughts and prayers are with the people of Israel who again have to endure another tragedy at the hands of Palestinian terrorists.

“It is no coincidence that this latest string of attacks on innocent Israelis comes after the supreme leader of Iran urged Palestinians to use violence against Israel and called for Israel’s destruction, as did the terrorist group Hamas,” Ros-Lehtinen continued. “This is another example of Iran’s dangerous meddling in an effort to attack our U.S. interests and Israel, and Hamas’ continued incitement of violence and terror. There is now a clear link to terrorism in both the West Bank and Gaza, and there can be no U.S. taxpayer dollars going to support a unity government that is backed by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.”

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Former St. Johns County Commissioner Ron Sanchez filed his paperwork on Tuesday to run in the special election for the Florida House seat vacated when Rep. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, decided to run in the special election for an open Florida Senate seat. Sanchez, who was nominated by Gov. Rick Scott to serve on the federal Selective Service System Local Board in Florida, is running as a Republican.

Sanchez was first elected to the County Commission in 2006 but lost his bid for another term to Jeb Smith this year.

The Republican primary field is growing crowded as Sanchez joins Jacksonville attorney Paul Renner, Palm Coast business leader Donald O’Brien and Sheamus John McNeely in the Republican primary on Jan. 27. The winner will face Democrat Thomas Adam Morley in the special election on April 7.

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U.S. Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., part of the House leadership as senior deputy majority whip, pointed to numbers from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services which found health-care costs on the rise in Central Florida. Blaming President Barack Obama’s health-care law for the rise, Ross noted premiums went up 14.9 percent in his home base of Polk County and 19.2 percent in Hillsborough County.

“Last Friday, the Obama administration released the estimated costs of health care policies for 2015 under Obamacare, the un-Affordable Care Act,” Ross said on Tuesday. “Premium costs have continued to rise since the law was implemented and Floridians are paying for it. In our congressional district, costs will have increased an average of 17.05 percent. President Obama knew millions of Americans would not be able to afford his health insurance, as did the controversial professor who helped engineer this flawed law.

We must reform the health care system to put patients and doctors in control of health care decisions, not Washington bureaucrats,” Ross added.

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Count former Gov. Mike Dukakis, D-Mass., as “underwhelmed” by former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., but insisted he was “fundamentally conservative.” Dukakis, who lost to Bush’s father in the 1988 presidential race, talked to U.S. News and World Report on the 2014 elections and the 2016 presidential contest:

Q: Who do you think on the Republican side is a legitimate messenger?

Dukakis: In 1996, I debated Jeb Bush. He was for [Bob] Dole and I was for [President Bill] Clinton, at the University of Tennessee. I got to tell you, I was underwhelmed. But who knows, he might be a credible candidate.

Q: Why was he underwhelming?

Dukakis: I didn’t see a lot there. Very conservative. I was amazed at how fundamentally conservative he was, philosophically and otherwise.

Q: You know, the problem with him now in the Republican Party is that he’s not conservative enough.

Dukakis: I know that, but consider the source. 

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Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam endorsed former Rep. Travis Hutson over former Rep. Doc Renuart in the Jan. 27 Republican primary in the special election for the Florida Senate seat vacated by former Sen. John Thrasher.

“Travis Hutson is a committed conservative who is devoted to helping Northeast Florida thrive,” said Putnam on Tuesday. “I know he will work tirelessly to grow the Northeast Florida jobs base and improve the economy and education system. Travis Hutson is a true leader, and I am proud to support him.”

“Commissioner Putnam has not only dedicated himself to helping Florida’s agriculture industry, but our entire state, and I greatly appreciate his support for my campaign,” said Hutson. “I look forward to having the opportunity to continue to serve Northeast Florida, and I am humbled to have received the commissioner’s endorsement.”

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