Sunshine State News Blogs

Amendment 2, a proposed state constitutional amendment expanding the use of medical marijuana in Florida, has gotten the support of  Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of more than 150,000 supporters across the nation. LEAP came out strongly behind Amendment 2 and pushed back against criticism of the proposal from the Florida Sheriffs Association (FSA).

“Voters deserve to know that many of us in law enforcement do not wish to stand between them and their doctors when it comes to marijuana,” said Neill Franklin, the executive director of LEAP, on Wednesday. “It is a waste of taxpayer dollars to make suffering people risk arrest, a criminal record, physical danger and even poisoning on the illicit market. Like any other medicine their doctors recommend, they should be able to obtain quality medical marijuana in a safe, lawful marketplace where the proceeds are not going to benefit criminal gangs and drug cartels.”

Noting some media reports have hit the FSA for going overboard in attacking Amendment 2, Franklin said his group would fight their claims.

“As these newspapers point out, the sheriffs’ fear-mongering claims are nonsense: repeated studies over many years in states that permit medicinal marijuana have found no evidence of increased teen usage, no increase in crime -- and an actual reduction in the number of traffic fatalities,” said Franklin. “In the face of a desperate fear campaign, LEAP’s members will continue to serve the people of Florida as a ‘truth squad’ that will respond to the wild misstatements and distortions about Amendment 2.”  

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Wansley Walters, former secretary of the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, has gone to work for governmental affairs lobbyists Ballard Partners, according to a Ballard news release issued Wednesday.

According to the release, Walters will co-chair the firm’s public policy team with a strategic focus on children, youth and justice issues.

“Wansley is a highly-respected voice in Florida government and she’s a proven leader with a track record of success," said Brian Ballard, president of Ballard Partners. "We are excited to bring her level of expertise and knowledge to our clients and their issues.”

Walters was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2011 to serve as DJJ secretary. Ballard emphasizes that under her leadership, Florida saw the lowest juvenile crime rate in 30 years. Walters also currently serves as Scott's appointed chair of the Florida Children and Youth Cabinet.

“It is an honor to join one of the most prestigious governmental affairs firms in Florida,” said Walters. “I have been an advocate for Florida’s children and families my entire career and I look forward to continuing that work with Brian, his team and the clients at Ballard Partners.”

Walters has presented at numerous state, national and international conferences on juvenile justice. She received the 2012 Juvenile Justice Without Borders International Award presented by the International Juvenile Justice Observatory during the International Youth Justice Convention in London.

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U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who sits on the U.S. Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, weighed in on the murder of Miami native Steven Sotloff, the journalist beheaded by Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) terrorists.

“Steven Sotloff was a man of enormous courage and decency,” Rubio said on Tuesday. “Through his journalism, he demonstrated deep personal compassion toward the Middle East and its people. He hoped to shine a light on both the good and the bad of the region – to show the world the dramatic potential of its people as well as the stark forces of evil holding them back. As Steven was a native of Florida, my office has been in contact with his family throughout their ordeal, and today my heart goes out to all who loved him as they make the painful transition from fear to grief.

“Steven’s balanced and earnest approach to journalism was met with love by many in the Middle East, but with brutal disdain by those whose tactics stood in such clear contrast to his own,” Rubio added. “Through Steven’s execution, ISIL has demonstrated yet again its limitless capacity for cruelty and its unbridled hatred of freedom-loving people everywhere. ISIL continues to establish that its violent grasp for regional control represents a threat to the American people, our allies, and the principles of freedom and human rights that we cherish.”

Rubio called for action against ISIL, including working with moderates in the Middle East in combating it and leaving the option of U.S. military strikes on the table.

“The horrifying clarity of ISIL’s message toward America should have been met from the beginning with an equally clear opposing message,” Rubio said. “ISIL is now the best funded terrorist group ever established and has large areas of territory under their control. There is no disease that becomes easier to treat the longer you wait, and as history has shown time and again, it is the same with malignant forces in global affairs. If we do not act now to assist our Iraqi partners and moderate Syrians who oppose ISIL, as well as utilize our own forces to directly target ISIL’s leadership, the result will be more suffering and tragedy for our people.”
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The Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) released a new TV ad on Wednesday, featuring Gov. Rick Scott attacking former Gov. Charlie Crist’s record on jobs and the economy. Despite having spent most of his political life in the GOP, Crist won the Democratic primary last week and will face Scott in November.

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“Charlie Crist lost 832,000 jobs as governor, and rather than stay and fix the mess he created, he tried to run away to Washington to further his own political career,” said Leslie Dougher, the chairwoman of the RPOF, on Wednesday. “But from day one, Rick Scott has focused on solutions that help all Floridians. He’s cut taxes 40 times, including $500 million this year, and the results speak for themselves. Florida has created over 600,000 jobs in the last three years and we’re not done yet. Rick Scott’s action -- not Charlie Crist’s empty talk -- has helped Florida head in the right direction.”

The ad starts hitting Florida airwaves on Thursday.
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A Tampa Bay Times/Bay News 9/UF Bob Graham Center poll released late on Tuesday night shows Gov. Rick Scott holding the edge on former Gov. Charlie Crist, who won last week’s Democratic primary.

The poll shows Scott taking 40.9 percent, Crist with 35.7 percent and Adrian Wyllie, the Libertarian nominee, garnering 6.3 percent. When Wyllie is taken out of the mix, Scott takes 43.7 while Crist gets 37.6 percent.

Florida voters are growing more optimistic about the economy with 48.7 believing the Sunshine State is recovering while 25.2 expect a recovery soon.

The poll of 814 likely voters was taken from Aug. 27-31 and had a margin of error of +/- 3.4 percent.
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From his perch on the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., announced on Tuesday he was introducing a bill giving President Barack Obama authority to launch airstrikes against Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces in Syria. Earlier in the day, Nelson said, after the murder of journalist Steven Sotloff, the U.S. needed to get active against ISIS.

“This will ensure there’s no question that the president has the legal authority he needs to use airstrikes in Syria,” Nelson said. “Let there be no doubt, we must go after ISIS right away because the U.S. is the only one that can put together a coalition to stop this group that’s intent on barbaric cruelty.”
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Former Gov. Charlie Crist spoke out on the murder of freelance journalist and Florida native Steven Sotloff on Tuesday. 

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the Sotloff family today," Crist tweeted. "This brutal murder of an innocent man who sought to document suffering in the world demonstrates the type of evil we confront."

Sotloff, who is from the Miami area, was a student at the University of Central Florida. He was kidnapped by ISIS in 2013.

"We will defeat this evil just as we have time and again throughout our history," said Crist. 
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U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., called for American action against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) forces on Monday after video showing the murder of journalist Steven Sotloff, a Miami native, was released on Tuesday.

“Our hearts go out to the family and friends of Steven Sotloff,” Nelson said on Tuesday. “Let there be no doubt, we must go after ISIS right away because the U.S. is the only one that can put together a coalition to stop this group that’s intent on barbaric cruelty.”
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Gov. Rick Scott spoke out on the brutal murder of freelance journalist and Miami native Steven Sotloff on Tuesday after a video of his alleged murder surfaced online.

Sotloff attended the University of Central Florida. He was captured in Syria by ISIS last year.

“On behalf of Ann and myself, and on behalf of all the people of Florida, we want to convey our sorrow and our condolences to the entire Sotloff family. We cannot begin to understand their grief," said Scott.

“The people who did this are evil. They are not merely wrong, they are not adversaries, they are evil. And evil must be confronted and destroyed. In fact, these immoral animals reject the basic code of human morality that crosses all cultures. This is not a political or international disagreement. It is a case of barbarians choosing to set themselves apart from the rest of humanity.

“Here is what they need to understand – Steve Sotloff was a Floridian, but more importantly he was an American. If you attack one American, you are attacking all Americans. Last week President Obama said that his administration does not at present have a strategy for dealing with ISIS – these immoral evil people.

“I think I can speak for all Floridians and all Americans when I say that the time for a strategy is now, and part of that strategy needs to include destroying them.”

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Miami-Dade School Board member Carlos Curbelo, the Republican running against U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-Fla., in what is expected to be one of the most competitive congressional races in the nation come November, came out swinging at the Democratic congressman on Tuesday over foreign policy.

“Rather than serving as a rubber stamp for the administration’s failed foreign policy, Joe Garcia should join members of Congress from both parties in demanding that the president take strong and decisive action to protect American interests throughout the globe,” Curbelo said. “For too long America has dithered as the world has spun into chaos. We need strong leaders in Congress who will hold the president accountable for our country’s national security.”
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At the end of last week, U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., announced his support for Carol Platt, the Republican candidate challenging U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., in November. Posey pointed to Platt’s background in the private sector as a reason why she will do well in Congress.

“Carol’s experience in business, balancing budgets, making payroll and having to make tough decisions will serve her very well,” Posey insisted. “We need more representatives like Carol with real-world experience and the guts to make Congress accountable.”
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U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., has been helping Republicans across the country as they look to flip the U.S. Senate from Democratic control in November. On Tuesday, Rubio waded into another Senate race as he penned an op-ed which appeared in the Lafayette Advertiser hitting U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., on a vote over sanctions against Venezuela.

Rubio penned the piece with U.S. Rep. Bill Caddidy, R-La., who is running against Landrieu who is considered one of the most vulnerable senators in the nation.

Rubio and Cassidy wrote:

For too long, Venezuelan regime officials have been oppressing innocent Venezuelans, pillaging that country’s wealth, traveling to the U.S. to splurge, and then return to Venezuela to carry on with their repression. At the very least, it should be U.S. policy to not allow these practices to continue.

In June, the House passed its bill unanimously. Not surprisingly, the Venezuelan government opposes these sanctions and, just as the Senate was about to unanimously pass legislation to impose them earlier this month, Maduro’s regime succeeded in finding a senator to block them: Mary Landrieu.

The Senate Foreign Relations Committee assured Landrieu that the bill would not affect Louisiana jobs and has no bearing on Citgo’s operations in the U.S.

When the Senate reconvenes in September, she and the Democratic majority will face an important choice about whether the U.S. will continue to stand up for human rights, or whether we will allow repressive strongmen like Nicolas Maduro to dictate America’s human rights policy.

This issue and this sanctions legislation is about human rights and is specifically targeted at individuals in Venezuela’s government who abuse them. It has nothing to do with jobs and energy policy.

It has to do with responding to the violent crackdowns we’ve seen in the streets of Caracas, and standing in solidarity with young Venezuelan leaders like Leopoldo Lopez, who’s been sitting in jail for months for opposing the regime so passionately and courageously. It has nothing to do with a Citgo oil refinery in Louisiana, as Landrieu and the Venezuelan regime would like Louisianans to believe.

While many honest, hard-working Americans are currently employed by Citgo, the reality is that a request by its officers to block or weaken this legislation is as good as a request from the highest levels of the Venezuelan government. Therefore, the U.S. Senate should move to vote on this bill in September without any special carve-outs for Venezuela’s human rights violators.

In recent times, our two states -- Florida and Louisiana -- have seen the lengths to which the Chavez-Maduro regime in Venezuela will go to entrench itself in power. When Venezuela held its most recent presidential “election,” in October, 2012, the regime chose New Orleans as its expatriate polling location for Venezuelans living in the U.S. who were eligible to vote.

To enhance participation, the regime could have chosen South Florida, which is home to the largest Venezuelan community in the U.S. Instead, the regime opted to make it harder -- and make travel longer -- for all these Venezuelans who have escaped Chavez’s disastrous socialist state to cast their votes against him.

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With Labor Day over and the general election season ramping up, President Barack Obama is shaping up to be an anchor pulling down Florida Democrats despite carrying the Sunshine State in the last two presidential elections.

A poll from Gravis Marketing released on Friday finds Obama is upside down in Florida with a majority -- 53 percent -- of those surveyed disapproving of his performance in the White House. Only 38 percent say they approve of Obama while 9 percent are unsure.

The poll of 859 registered voters was taken from Aug. 14-24 and had a margin of error of +/- 4 percent. Of those voters, 73 percent of them identified themselves as “very likely” to vote while 17 percent said they were “likely to vote” and 10 percent were “somewhat likely to vote.” Most of the sample -- 80 percent -- was collected via phone but the remainder came from Internet panels.
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Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the heavy favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination, starts off the 2016 election cycle with the lead in the key swing state of Florida over two Republicans from the Sunshine State.

A poll released by Gravis Marketing on Friday shows Clinton cruising over U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., in a potential 2016 match-up. Clinton takes 44 percent of voters in that scenario while Rubio lags behind with 35 percent. More than a fifth of voters -- 21 percent -- remain undecided.

But Clinton’s lead is cut dramatically when former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., is inserted as the Republican nominee. Clinton takes 39 percent in that scenario with Bush right on her heels with 37 percent. The percentage of undecided voters in that case rises to 24 percent.

The poll of 859 registered voters was taken from Aug. 14-24 and had a margin of error of +/- 4 percent. Of those voters, 73 percent of them identified themselves as “very likely” to vote while 17 percent said they were “likely to vote” and 10 percent were “somewhat likely to vote.” Most of the sample -- 80 percent -- was collected via phone but the remainder came from Internet panels.
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A new poll shows Amendment 2, a proposal to allow more medical marijuana use in Florida, is in good shape for the November elections.

The poll released Friday from Gravis Marketing finds 62 percent of those surveyed support Amendment 2 while 26 percent say they plan to vote against it and 10 percent remain undecided on how they feel about it. For Amendment 2 to pass in the general election, it needs 60 percent or more support from Florida voters.

The poll of 859 registered voters was taken from Aug. 14-24 and had a margin of error of +/- 4 percent. Of those voters, 73 percent of them identified themselves as “very likely” to vote while 17 percent said they were “likely to vote” and 10 percent were “somewhat likely to vote.” Most of the sample -- 80 percent -- was collected via phone but the remainder came from Internet panels.
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The Florida gubernatorial contest is a jump ball according to a poll released by Gravis Marketing on Friday.

The poll finds both Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic challenger former Gov. Charlie Crist running even, taking 37 percent apiece. However, more than a quarter of those surveyed -- 26 percent -- remain undecided.

Most polls have shown the race tightening up as the double-digit lead Crist had last year has vanished.

The poll of 859 registered voters was taken from Aug. 14-24 and had a margin of error of +/- 4 percent. Of those voters, 73 percent of them identified themselves as “very likely” to vote while 17 percent said they were “likely to vote” and 10 percent were “somewhat likely to vote.” Most of the sample -- 80 percent -- was collected via phone but the remainder came from Internet panels.
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Banker Jay Fant was declared the winner of the Republican primary to replace Rep. Daniel Davis, R-Jacksonville, in the Florida House on Friday. After the Duval County Elections Supervisor held a machine recount and examined ballots, Fant beat attorney and Navy veteran Paul Renner by 2 votes: 5,962 to 5,960.

“I have to thank my wife, my children, my family, and all my loyal supporters and volunteers who made today's victory possible,” Fant said on Friday after the recount. “I cannot say a word, however, with expressing my full and heartfelt congratulations to Paul Renner for a contest well fought. This was a tough race in which we agreed more than we disagreed, and I want to continue to work with Paul on the priorities that we share, which include the well being of Florida's economy and resistance to so much of the Obama agenda.

“I also want to express thanks to the faithful public servants who conducted this election, including Duval Supervisor of Elections Jerry Holland, the canvassing board, and the many workers who have worked late hours these past few days,” Fant added.
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With Labor Day being celebrated on Monday, Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch weighed in on Friday, noting an increase of private-sector jobs in the Sunshine State over the last year.

"Monday, Sept. 1st, Americans will celebrate Labor Day, a time to thank our nation's workers for their role in building economic growth and prosperity,” Calabro said. “This year, more working Floridians have reason to relax and celebrate the long weekend. From July 2013 to July 2014, Florida saw an increase of 208,500 private, nonfarm jobs.

"The Florida TaxWatch July Economic Commentary showed the first six months of 2014 saw a 30 percent increase in jobs over the same period from 2013,” Calabro continued. “The highest job growth has occurred in construction, a result of Florida's recovering economy. Since 2010, Florida has been experiencing steady job growth, which indicates good news for Florida job seekers.

 "After the post-recession record-setting job creation from the first six months of 2014, we expect that this trend continues and that even more Floridians are employed and prospering on Labor Day 2015,” Calabro said in conclusion.

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On Friday, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), sent out a fundraising email on Carlos Curbelo’s behalf, attempting to link Joe Garcia with U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Walden warned Republicans that Democrats planned to support Garcia with their checkbooks and called for Republicans to open their wallets for Curbelo.
“He’s our candidate to beat Joe Garcia and Nancy Pelosi, but the Democrats have already reserved more than $2 million in advertising against him,” Walden wrote. “His real race has just started.
“Carlos knows what it takes to lead and will fight for the best for South Florida -- but he’s in a tight race,” Walden added.
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The Lee County School Board, which voted to opt out of statewide standardized testing this week, could be pumping the brakes on its decision to leave testing behind. 

The board will be meeting next Tuesday to discuss the vote and consider rescinding its decision. The News Press reported board member Mary Fischer, who served as the tiebreaker for the 3-2 vote, requested the meeting.

The meeting drew some criticism from opponents of high-stakes testing, who contested the meeting time was unsuitable for gathering parent input.

"The Board has every right to hold a meeting to reconsider its vote to 'opt out' of state-mandated testing," wrote Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director for FairTest, in a letter to board members. "But the decision to schedule the special session at 8:30am on a weekday -- when working parents of Lee County public school students and district educators, two groups that apparently support your initial majority vote according to all available polls -- are unable to attend is outrageous."

Schaeffer implored members to reschedule the meeting to a different date and time to maximize public participation.

Check back for updates. 
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Former Florida Senate Minority Leader Nan Rich will be attending unity rallies across Florida on Thursday with former Gov. Charlie Crist who beat her in the Democratic gubernatorial primary on Tuesday. But Rich could not resist a final shot at Crist who refused to debate her during the primary campaign .

“Last night I spoke with Charlie Crist to congratulate him,” Rich posted on Facebook on Wednesday. “It was a brief call, I didn't feel like debating him.”

Rich offered more enthusiasm later on Wednesday in another Facebook post.

“Last night, I called Gov. Crist to offer him my congratulations,” Rich wrote. “He will now bear the Democratic standard in a contest where nothing less than the future of Florida is at stake. It will be a very tough fight to beat Rick Scott. Charlie Crist will need all of our support to win. He has mine.”

“As I traveled across our state these past two years, I met and spoke with thousands of Floridians -- thousands of working men and women, retirees, and students,” Rich added. “Not all of them were Democrats. But almost all of them shared a desire for making Florida better by investing in education and making health care available for everyone. The voters we reached believe in fairness and social justice for all. These are all issues Floridians care about. And they remain an important part of the dialog of this election.

“I entered this race to defeat Rick Scott and get Florida back on the right track. That is a goal to which I remain committed,” Rich noted. “Tomorrow I’ll be attending Democratic unity rallies in Orange County and Broward County. They will kick off the run to the general election – the run that, with your support, will make Rick Scott a one-term governor.”

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The Florida Association of State Troopers (FAST) endorsed Attorney General Pam Bondi for a second term on Thursday. Bondi, a Republican, faces Democratic nominee former DCF Secretary George Sheldon and Libertarian Bill Wohlsifer in November.

“As a prosecutor in the 18th Judicial Circuit, Pam Bondi proved herself a strong advocate for justice,” said Mike Kirby, FAST’s chairman, on Thursday. “That has carried over into her job as attorney general and she continues her commitment to the safety and well-being of Florida’s citizens and visitors.

“Pam Bondi is a proven friend of Florida’s troopers, the Florida Highway Patrol, and the law enforcement community in our state,” Kirby added. “Under her stewardship, we are confident that we have a strong advocate in the office of attorney general.”

“Thank you to the incredible members of the Florida Association of State Troopers for this endorsement,” said Bondi. “As Florida’s chief legal officer, it has been invaluable to have the collaborative efforts of the state troopers as we work together to target criminal activities and keep citizens safe from unscrupulous offenders. I look forward to continuing our joint efforts to protect Floridians.”

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On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott named Lester Bass, a longtime figure in Jacksonville legal circles, to the Duval County Court, replacing Judge Russell Healey who was elevated to the circuit court.

Bass has been a general magistrate and hearing officer in the 4th Judicial Circuit for more than a decade and worked as an assistant public defender in Hillsborough County and an assistant state attorney in the 4th Judicial Circuit which covers parts of the First Coast.

“Throughout his career, Lester has been committed to his community and public service,” Scott said. “I am confident that Lester will continue to serve families in Duval County with dedication and integrity.”
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With the kickoff of the college football season set for this weekend, including the national champion Florida State University Seminoles starting the season against Oklahoma State, a new study from Florida TaxWatch finds the seven Division I NCAA football teams in Florida help boost the Sunshine State’s economy.

"Florida taxpayers should be cheering on Florida football programs this year, because Florida team wins create value for the state," said Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, on Thursday.

The study can be read here.
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The Lee County School District voted Wednesday evening to be the first in the state to opt out of standardized testing. 

By a vote of 3-2, the Lee County School Board decided to pull the district out of statewide testing, effective immediately.

According to the News Press, Wednesday's meeting was full of people both in support of and opposed to opting out of testing. 

Lee County Superintendent Nancy Graham was not entirely pleased with the board's decision, saying opting out of testing would hurt children and leave teachers clueless.

It's unclear what the repercussions of the board's decision will be.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. 
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Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal announced Wednesday he will be filing a lawsuit against the federal government for violating states' rights by implementing the Common Core State Standards. 

Jindal's lawsuit says states were given monetary incentives through federal grants to join in and implement the standards, which Jindal says violates the 10th Amendment. 

In June, Jindal issued an executive order pulling Louisiana out of Common Core, which has been subject to intense scrutiny and criticism from parents, teachers and members of the public in recent months. 

"The federal government has hijacked and destroyed the Common Core initiative," said Jindal. "Common Core is the latest effort by big government disciples to strip away state rights and put Washington, D.C., in control of everything. What started out as an innovative idea to create a set of base line standards that could be 'voluntarily' used by the states has turned into a scheme by the federal government to nationalize curriculum."

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After winning the Republican primary on Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott reminded Floridians on Wednesday that his $400 million cut of vehicle registration fees, one of his chief legislative priorities this year, takes effect on Sept. 1.

Scott insisted these fees were “tax increases” which then-Gov. Charlie Crist signed off on back in 2009. Despite having spent most of his political life as a Republican, Crist won the Democratic primary on Tuesday and will face Scott in November.

“This year, we set out to cut many taxes and fees on Florida families, and starting next week we are rolling back many of the 2009 tax increases on annual motor vehicle registrations,” Scott said on Wednesday. “This fee cut will result in an annual savings of about $25 per typical motor vehicle. Families deserve to keep more of their hard-earned money, and we will now be able to save Floridians $400 million, because it’s their money!”
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With Tuesday marking the end of primary season in Florida, focus now turns to the general election. That was clear on Wednesday morning as the Florida Medical Association PAC (FMA PAC) announced it was backing Florida Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, over Democrat Judithanne McLauchlan in what is expected to be one of the most competitive legislative races come November.

“Sen. Jeff Brandes has stood up for common-sense legislation and for advancing innovation,” said Dr. Ralph Nobo, the president of the FMA PAC, on Wednesday. “The Florida Medical Association is pleased to support Sen. Brandes’ re-election efforts and looks forward to working with him to improve Florida’s health care system.”

“As a member of the Health Policy Committee, innovating Florida's health care system has been a priority to me," Brandes said. "The Florida Medical Association has been a great resource, and I am honored to have their endorsement. I look forward to continuing to work with them to set Florida apart on the cutting edge of health care."

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John Cortes, the vice president of the Florida Hispanic Caucus and a retired New York City corrections officer, pulled off a major upset in the Democratic primary on Tuesday by beating state Rep. Ricardo Rangel, D-Kissimmee.

With 5,494 votes counted, Cortes had 2,843 votes (51.75 percent) and Rangel had 2,651 (48.25 percent).

“John Cortes has dedicated his career to public service and I know he will bring those same values with him to the Legislature,” said Allison Tant, the chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party, after the results were known. “From his time as a police officer to his extensive work as an activist in Osceola County, John has always put his fellow community members ahead of himself. I look forward to working with John to ensure that the residents of District 43 continue to have representation that puts the middle class first this fall.”

Rangel heavily outspent Cortes in the primary contest, raising $90,325, relying on $4,500 of in-kind donations and spending almost $80,800. Cortes loaned his campaign $8,800, raised $6,865, used $100 of in-kind donations and spent $15,247.35.

Republican Carlos Irizarry awaits Cortes in the general election though this district, which represents parts of Osceola County, is strongly Democratic.
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Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, routed challenger Brandon Cannon in the Republican primary on Tuesday.

With almost 35,500 votes counted, Negron had 85.4 percent while Cannon took 14.6 percent of the vote.

“I really appreciate this community’s vote of confidence in the commitment we share for protecting our environment, supporting our seniors and safeguarding our constitutional rights," Negron said after his big win. “I look forward to continuing our grassroots campaign in the general election.”

Negron takes on Democrat Bruno Moore and a write-in candidate in November in what is a solid Republican district.

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