Sunshine State News Blogs

Florida Tourism Day will be celebrated March 12 at the state Capitol.

According to a press release from the Partnership for Florida’s Tourism, tourism and hospitality leaders will convene in Tallahassee for a daylong event designed to "educate the Legislature, media and Floridians about the importance of Florida’s tourism industry."

Tourism is a booming business in Florida -- approximately 94.7 million visitors came to the state in 2013, making it a record year for visitation to Florida and exceeding the previous high of 91.5 million in 2012.

"2013 marked the third consecutive record year for Florida tourism," said Will Seccombe, president and CEO of VISIT FLORIDA. "Given that we have the best tourism product on the planet, visionary public-sector leadership from Gov. Scott and the Florida Legislature, nearly 1.1 million Floridians who provide exceptional service to our visitors every day, and highly impactful marketing programs from VISIT FLORIDA and our destination marketing partners across the state, Florida is well-positioned to become the No. 1 travel destination in the world."

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The unemployment rate for 18-to-29-year-olds was much higher than the national unemployment rate for February, according to a report released Friday by Generation Opportunity. 

The effective unemployment rate, which adjusts for labor force participation by including those who have given up looking for work, is 15.8 percent. The (U-3) unemployment rate for 18-to-29-year-olds is 11.4 percent.

According to the report, the declining labor force participation rate has created an additional 1.95 million young adults that are not counted as “unemployed” by the U.S. Department of Labor because they are not in the labor force. This is because those young people have "given up looking for work due to the lack of jobs."

The unemployment rate for African-American youths was higher than the overall rate at 19.3 percent. The unemployment rate for women was lower than the overall unemployment rate at 9.7 percent. 

Evan Feinberg, president of Generation Opportunity, criticized politicians for ignoring the high unemployment rate of the nation's youth.

“Youth unemployment has been way too high for way too long and politicians seem like they don't even care about this mess that they created themselves," he said. "Instead of working to create opportunities for my generation, the administration is busy dreaming up new big-government schemes that rob us of our prosperity and threaten our future well-being. If government insists on waging this War on Youth, we will have no choice but to fight back and hold them accountable."
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The U.S. economy added 175,000 jobs for the month of February, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported Friday. February's numbers are up from just 129,000 jobs added in January.

The national unemployment rate increased slightly to 6.7 percent, up from a five-year low of 6.6 percent. 

This is a developing story. Check back for more updates. 
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U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., took to the House floor on Thursday and attacked President Barack Obama’s decision to shift funds from Medicare to pay for his signature health-care law.

“Nearly 30 percent of all seniors – 15 million Americans – choose Medicare Advantage,” Bilirakis said. “Individuals have testified before the Energy and Commerce [Committee] that Medicare Advantage provides better results than traditional Medicare by embracing free-market principles.

“Obamacare cuts Medicare by over $700 billion,” Bilirakis added. “These cuts will reduce the access seniors have to Medicare Advantage. This is unacceptable.”

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Overnight protests will no longer be allowed at the Florida Capitol.

According to the new rules, sleeping overnight in any public areas of the Capitol would be prohibited. Unauthorized people would also not be allowed to stay at the Capitol after normal hours and a permit will be required to prepare food in public areas or hallways of the building.

The new rules come after the Dream Defenders, an organization comprised primarily of college students, camped out at the Capitol after George Zimmerman was acquitted in the death of Trayvon Martin. The Dream Defenders protested the state's Stand Your Ground laws and vowed not to leave the Capitol until the law was repealed. Ultimately, however, the group called it quits and left the Capitol after 30 days of protesting. 

The Dream Defenders returned to Tallahassee for the first day of the 2014 legislative session, cheering, chanting and singing in protest of various gun laws and prison abuse issues in Florida.
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A Rasmussen Reports poll released Thursday shows former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton handily beating former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., in a hypothetical 2016 presidential match-up. Clinton takes 47 percent in the poll of likely voters while Bush garners the support of 33 percent. Six percent are undecided and 14 percent say they would back other candidates.

Clinton is the heavy favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016 while Bush has opened the door to running for the Republican nod. Of course, Clinton’s husband beat Bush’s father in the 1992 presidential election.

The poll of 1,000 likely voters was taken from March 4-5 and had a margin of error of +/- 3 percent.

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A Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Thursday throws cold water on former Gov. Jeb Bush’s presidential prospects in 2016. The new poll shows 48 percent of Americans say they definitely would not vote for Bush in 2016. Only former Gov. Mitt Romney, R-Mass., generates more opposition with 49 percent saying they will not vote for him. Only 6 percent said they would definitely vote for Bush while 38 percent said they would consider voting for him.

The poll finds U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is in better shape, though only 5 percent say they would definitely vote for him in 2016 and 40 percent say they would consider it. Around a third -- 32 percent -- of those surveyed say they would definitely not vote for Rubio.

None of the possible Republican presidential hopefuls are running as strongly as former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. A quarter of those surveyed -- 25 percent -- say they would definitely vote for her in 2016 while 41 percent would consider it and 32 percent say they definitely would not. Only Romney from the Republican ranks breaks double digits, with 12 percent saying they would definitely vote for him.

The poll of 1,002 American adults was taken from Feb. 27-March 2 and had a margin of error of +/- 3.5 percent.

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Florida TaxWatch released a report on Thursday which showed increased use of telemedicine would save Floridians more than $1 billion a year.

"The opportunity costs of not investing in telemedicine are too high for the state of Florida and its taxpayers," said Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, on Thursday. "Florida needs to expand telemedicine to not only improve health care outcomes, but to provide care at a lower cost to Floridians."

The report can be read here.

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Former state Rep. Gary Aubuchon announced on Wednesday that he was supporting Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, for the Republican nomination in the special election for the congressional seat left open when former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., resigned after pleading guilty to cocaine possession. Aubuchon ran in the Republican primary back in 2012, taking 16 percent but taking fourth place as Radel won.

“Lizbeth Benacquisto has fought for balanced budgets and smaller government,” Aubuchon wrote in a letter supporting her candidacy. “She has brought us tax cuts every year, cuts that are helping small-business owners get people back to work. She’s also applied conservative principles to everything she’s done; supporting local control of education, protecting kids from predators, and keeping our promises to seniors and veterans.”

“Gary is a job creator and respected member of this community,” said Benacquisto. “I am proud to have his support.”

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U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., announced on Wednesday that the Army Corps of Engineers will spend $2.25 million to expand Jacksonville’s harbor and that President Barack Obama’s budget calls for more than $3 million for the project in 2015. The funds will help deepen JaxPort’s harbor as the First Coast prepares for larger vessels which will be hitting the Atlantic after the Panama Canal expansion.

“JaxPort and the Northeast Florida regional economy got a boost today with the news that Army Corps of Engineers has allocated $2.25 million in its 2014 work plan for the Preconstruction, Engineering and Design (PED) phase of the JaxPort harbor deepening,” Crenshaw said on Wednesday. “And, looking ahead to 2015, the president’s budget contains a $3.15 million request in Army Corps funds to continue the PED.

“Deepening the St. Johns River means more jobs, more trade, and more economic growth for the region; that’s why my support for this project remains strong and steady,” Crenshaw added. “If we do not act quickly, JaxPort will fall behind competitors on the East Coast, and the economic engine that has driven this community for the past decade will be put in danger.”

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Trying to catch former Gov. Charlie Crist in the Democratic primary to see who challenges Gov. Rick Scott in November, former Florida Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich is stepping up the attacks on her rivals.

Rich hammered the State of the State address Scott gave on Tuesday.

“The fact is that all the things Rick Scott didn’t say in his State of the State speech yesterday would fill a budget document – a real budget document that would fund the critical needs of our state and get Florida back on the right track,” Rich insisted on Wednesday. “As governor, I’ll reset our state’s priorities. Public education, health care, the needs of working families, children, and seniors will come first. As your governor, I will do much better!”

But Rich has also looked to lump her two rivals together, trying to remind Democrats that Crist spent most of his political life as a Republican.

“For nearly eight years, under Republican Govs. Charlie Crist and Rick Scott, Florida has given billions in tax breaks and virtual control of our government over to special interests,” Rich maintained on Tuesday. “As a state, we are less safe and less able to meet the basic needs of our citizens than we were eight years ago. We don’t need a magician to fix what’s wrong with our state – we need a governor who will reset priorities and get our state back on the right track. And that’s exactly the kind of governor I’ll be.”

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Former President Bill Clinton is stepping into the spotlight in Florida politics by getting calls out to voters in Congressional District 13, urging them to vote for Alex Sink. 

"Hello, this is Bill Clinton. On March 11th, Pinellas County voters can send a proven leader to Congress, someone who will work across the aisle to get things done. That leader is Alex Sink. As Florida's chief financial officer, Alex brought Republicans and Democrats together to find common-sense solutions to some of the state's most pressing problems."

Listen to the call below:



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On Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott headed to Charlotte County for the groundbreaking of a major center for food distributor Cheney Bros. The new center is bringing 380 new jobs and will garner more than $40 million in investments.

“The creation of a Cheney Bros.' distribution center is great news for Charlotte County families,” Scott said. “Florida has proven to be the perfect climate for business with the help of companies like Cheney Bros. We’ve been working hard to create more jobs for families all over the state and since December 2010, we’ve created more than 462,000 private-sector jobs. We will continue to work to create an opportunity economy that will create jobs for future generations.”

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With President Barack Obama coming to South Florida on Friday, the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) looked to link him to former Gov. Charlie Crist. Despite spending most of his political career as a Republican, Crist is the favorite for the Democratic nomination to challenge Gov. Rick Scott in November.

“It’s ironic that President Obama is coming to Florida to talk about ‘expanding opportunity’ when Obamacare makes it harder for small businesses to create jobs,” said Lenny Curry, the chairman of the RPOF, on Wednesday. “It shouldn’t be a surprise Charlie Crist supports a president and a law that hurts Florida’s job creators because he oversaw unemployment tripling in the Sunshine State and did nothing about it, choosing to attempt an escape to Washington, D.C., instead.”

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St. Pete Polls released a poll commissioned by St. PetersBlog on Tuesday which shows businessman Curt Clawson and Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, ahead of the rest of the Republican pack in the special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., in Congress. Radel resigned earlier this year after pleading guilty to cocaine possession.

Clawson leads the poll with 38 percent followed by Benacquisto with 32.4 percent. Former state Rep. Paige Kreegel stands in distant third with 8.5 percent. Michael Dreikorn garners 3.2 percent while Timothy Rossano lags behind with 1.3 percent; 16.7 percent are undecided.

The poll of 1,012 registered Republicans who say they plan to vote in the April 22 primary was taken on March 3 and had a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent.

Whoever emerges in the Republican primary will be a heavy favorite to win the seat in the June 24 special general election over Democrat April Freeman and Libertarian Ray Netherwood.

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Adrian Wyllie, the favorite to be the Libertarian Party’s candidate in the Florida gubernatorial race, responded to Gov. Rick Scott’s State of the State address and went after both the Republican incumbent and former Gov. Charlie Crist, the favorite for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination despite spending most of his political career with the GOP.

Wyllie released the following statement on Tuesday night:

In his State of the State address today, Republican Gov. Rick Scott tried to convince Floridians to “keep working” and that “it’s your money.” Unfortunately, the truth is that fewer Floridians are working, and we’re keeping less of our own money.

The number of working Floridians has decreased dramatically on Gov. Scott’s watch, and his economic policies have directly resulted in thousands of lost jobs in Florida. Florida’s labor participation rate has fallen from the 25-year average of 62.4 percent, down to 59.6 percent, according to the Florida Legislature Office of Economic and Demographic Research.

It’s easy to tout positive unemployment numbers when you stop counting the nearly 442,000 Floridians who have given up hope of finding work.

Scott also proudly claimed to have cut the budget during his tenure. That is absolutely false.

Gov. Scott has increased the state budget by over $8 billion during his term. In 2011, Florida spent a total of $65.5 billion. Under Rick Scott, the state budget has ballooned to $74.2 billion. That’s more than the entire defense budgets of Canada, Australia, and Israel … combined. Attempting to spend our way to prosperity has gotten us into this mess, and Rick Scott should know better.

Any “cuts” that Scott refers to are simply minor reductions to the massive spending increases that he has proposed and signed. Gov. Scott has apparently taken a page from the Obama playbook, by spinning a decrease to the increase as a “cut.”

The truth is that Scott’s massive spending increases mean the state government now has much more of your money. Perhaps it’s appropriate that he gave this address to the state Legislature. He must have been talking to government officials – not you – when he said, “it’s your money.”

Scott proposed a paltry reduction to the auto registration fee, which would save Florida taxpayers $25 per year per vehicle. If it’s not even enough to fill your gas tank, is it even worth getting excited about?

The people of Florida need real tax cuts, not just talking points. That’s why I’m proposing a 100 percent tax exemption on all homestead properties, saving the average Florida homeowner $1,500 per year, and making a real difference for struggling Florida families.

Gov. Scott also took a great deal of pride in touting his record in job creation. But, once again, there’s a problem. The vast majority of these jobs exist only as projections on paper, not as real paychecks for Florida families. Of the 460,000 jobs Scott claims to have created since 2010, only 5 percent of them have actually materialized into actual jobs.

In one instance a “promise” of over 400 jobs with Redpine Healthcare Technologies has vanished as the financing dissipated and the owners are now in bankruptcy court.

In another instance, a sawmill with the “promise” of 127 new jobs has stalled due to red tape and government bureaucracy. In fact the majority of the projects and “promised” jobs attached to tax incentives have been stalled in large part to other government regulations and lack of financing, yet the jobs are still being misleadingly presented as being created by the governor.

As I travel the state speaking with small-business owners, I always ask, “What can government do to help you create jobs and economic growth?” Almost universally, they tell me that taxes and regulations are killing business, and preventing them from hiring new employees. I often hear statements like, “Get government out of our way, and we’ll do the rest.”

I have listened, and I am prepared to act.

That’s why I have proposed the Florida Intrastate Commerce Act. The Florida ICA will insulate manufacturers, distributors, retailers, and service providers from burdensome federal regulations, and create an environment for real job creation and lasting prosperity. It will release small and medium businesses from the shackles of overregulation, and allow them to expand and hire new workers. It will attract high-tech manufacturers to Florida, and open up new markets for skilled employees. And, it will do all this without having to spend a penny of “your money.”

Amid all the half-truths and half-measures of Scott’s speech, he found time to place blame on his predecessor, former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist.

At least that’s one issue upon which Gov. Scott and I can partially agree. Florida has witnessed more government and less liberty under the last two Republican governors.

Charlie Crist was a big-spending, job-killing governor.

And despite all his rhetoric and spin, Rick Scott has just been more of the same.

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U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., appeared on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News on Tuesday night and weighed in on the future of the GOP and conservatism.

“Just today, a poll came out that showed the majority of Americans don’t believe the Republican Party is in touch with people’s everyday lives,” Rubio said. “Now that’s not because they think Republicans are too conservative. That’s the mainstream media talking point. It’s because we are not — the Republican brand — it seems oftentimes to just be arguing a different way of being more Democrat, and more government-related as opposed to innovative ideas that return us to the principles of free enterprise and individual responsibility and individual liberty — the kinds of things that people understand as a way to make their lives better. So the way for us to become more relevant, and that’s why you see this energy to be about these reform ideas, is because we recognize the challenges people face and their answers lie in our principles. And our challenge is to take our time-tested principles — free enterprise, limited government — and apply them to 21st century challenges. And our frustration, especially mine, seems to be that we’re not doing enough for that. We’re simply trying to figure out, ‘How can we manage our existing government programs better.’ That’s not enough.

“I think most people, what they would like to do is have a job that allows them to provide for their family, to live in peace and security, to be able to worship as they please and to leave their kids better off than themselves. And they’re frustrated that right now, given the direction we’re going, that’s become harder,” Rubio added. “Conservatives have answers for that. And they don’t involve more spending and they don’t involve more government. They involve unleashing the power of free enterprise and giving people the skills they need, or allowing them to acquire the skills they need, to take advantage of that. I think if that’s our message, we’re going to win in places that would surprise you. I think if our message continues to be just like the Democrats, except for a couple (of) little things, I don’t think that’s going to be enough. I think we need to be an alternative — a clear alternative — to the direction that they’ve taken us over the last five to six years.”

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The Washington, D.C., City Council -- living as it does in the belly of the same federal-government beast that keeps a stranglehold on cannabis criminalization -- voted Tuesday to significantly ease marijuana laws in the district.

By a near unanimous vote, the council ruled that possession and private consumption of the drug in small amounts would be decriminalized, according to the Washington Post. Mayor Vincent Gray is expected to sign the bill into law. The District of Columbia will join 17 states that have decriminalization laws on the books, and will become one of the most lenient cities in the country with regard to weed.

Previously, public consumption and possession of an ounce or less of marijuana were both criminal offenses that carried hefty fines of $1,000 or six-month prison sentences. Advocates stated that these penalties fell disproportionately on African-Americans in the capital. A 2013 study by the Washington Lawyers' Committee stated that "nine out of 10" arrests for possession involved African-American residents.

When the bill goes into effect this summer, possession will be a civil offense with a light fine of $25. Public consumption is still considered a misdemeanor, though, with a maximum fine of $500 or 60 days in jail.

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U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Fla., is being investigated in a domestic violence incident stemming from his ongoing divorce.

Lolita Grayson filed for a protective injuction against the congressman, accusing him of injuring her by pushing her into a door. An Orange County judge granted her a temporary injunction even as the congressman denied the charge and claimed his wife attacked him.

Police did not arrest the congressman. The Orlando Sentinel’s article on the incident can be read here.

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The Florida Senate acted quickly on the opening day of the 2014 legislative session, approving a package of law aimed at cracking down on sexual predators. 

Four bills passed unanimously through the Senate, which would provide tough penalties for certain sexual crimes. One bill would require a mandatory 50-year sentence for "dangerous sexual offenders" or those who rape children -- a sentence double the current mandatory penalty. Another would call for a civil-commitment review for sex offenders serving felonies and misdemeanors.

“To me, if you have a plague -- and that’s what sexually violent predators are, they are a human plague -- if you have a plague, you want to know where it is and contain it," Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, said.

The Florida House of Representatives is expected to approve the same bills next week.
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Former U.S. Rep. Connie Mack, R-Fla., announced on Tuesday that he was backing businessman Curt Clawson in the special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., in Congress. Mack held the seat until 2012 when he ran for the U.S. Senate but was defeated by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla. Radel won the seat but resigned earlier this year after pleading guilty to cocaine possession.

“Our deficits and debts continue to diminish our freedoms as Americans and it is time to do something about it,” Mack said on Tuesday. “I am very concerned about the national debt and the impact it is going to have on future generations, as well as the weight it is putting on today’s economy.”

Mack showcases his “Penny Plan” which would reduce federal spending by 1 percent each year. During his time in Congress and when running against Nelson in 2012, Mack highlighted his plan which won the support of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

“I proposed the Penny Plan to reduce federal spending by 1 percent a year,” Mack said. “That’s just one penny out of every federal dollar. Everyone in America has had to do that, businesses have had to do that and now it’s time that our federal government does it. The Penny Plan works and it needs to be the focus of our government’s attention.

“Sometimes it takes outsiders from outside the political process to step up and lead to change the direction of our country,” Mack continued. “Ronald Reagan, Rand Paul, and others have come from outside the process to fundamentally change the direction of our country. Curt Clawson is a businessman who has experience in making tough decisions to cut spending and save jobs. There aren’t too may former CEOs of $2.2 billion companies with experience at that level who are willing to offer themselves as a candidate for Congress.

“Curt Clawson has endorsed the Penny Plan and has added it to his Clawson Economic Growth Plan," Mack added. “The combination of 5 percent growth and 1 percent cuts would put our country on a path to recovery and growth that we haven’t seen in decades.

“Simply put, I am concerned that most politicians don’t have the strength of their resolve in order to make these tough choices,” Mack concluded. “It will take an outsider to help us accomplish this goal and ultimately pass the Penny Plan. For these reasons, I endorse Curt Clawson for Congress and look forward to working with him to make the Penny Plan a reality.”

Clawson takes on Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, and former state Rep. Paige Kreegel in the April 22 primary.


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After giving the State of the State address on Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott won the praise of an old political ally: Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas. Scott and Perry have often engaged in friendly competition to see whether Texas or Florida could generate more new jobs.

"Gov. Rick Scott is a strong competitor with a vision for how to create jobs and opportunity for Floridians, a vision that has helped boost the Sunshine State's economy in his time as governor,” Perry said. “Our nation needs more leaders like Rick Scott, who understand the value of freedom, innovation and competition in the states.

"States are laboratories of innovation, and Gov. Scott has kept a laser focus on making Florida a strong competitor for jobs and investment,” Perry added. “As our nation continues to struggle economically, states like Florida will continue to create opportunity for their citizens thanks to principled leaders like Gov. Scott."

Perry ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012 and has left the door open to running again in 2016. Last week, Perry visited Iowa, home of the first presidential caucus, creating more chatter that he could seek the presidency again.

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In Tuesday’s State of the State address, Gov. Rick Scott spent a great deal of focus attacking former Gov. Charlie Crist’s record in Tallhasssee. Despite spending most of his political career with the GOP, Crist is the favorite for the Democratic nomination to challenge Scott in November.

Crist returned fire on Tuesday afternoon.

“The people deserve a governor with bold ideas -- someone who can work with both Republicans and Democrats to strengthen small businesses that create jobs, cut wasteful spending, and make college more affordable,” Crist insisted. “Reaching across the aisle isn't a sin -- it's an obligation. If we work together over the next eight months, next year I will deliver a State of the State that puts the people first.”

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The Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) board of directors announced on Monday it would be backing the Republican ticket -- Gov. Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi, CFO Jeff Atwater and Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam -- for re-election.

“AIF board of directors unanimously endorses Gov. Rick Scott and the entire Florida Cabinet in their campaigns for re-election for the 2014 election cycle," said former U.S. Rep. Tom Feeney, the president and CEO of AIF, on Monday. “The governor campaigned on ‘Let’s Get to Work’ and continues that mission today with ‘It’s Working Florida.’”

“The governor and Cabinet members are doing all they can to not only attract new job creators to Florida, but keep businesses in the state working smoothly and money in the pockets of hard-working Floridians through tax cuts and reduced regulation,” Feeney added. “Each of the candidates shares the same goals as our AIF board of directors, and we are proud to stand in support of them as they seek re-election this year.”

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House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, opened the 2014 legislative session by calling for the children of undocumented immigrants to receive in-state tuition at Florida’s colleges and universities.

“The federal government has failed,” Weatherford said on Tuesday. “Our border is not secure. Our laws are not enforced.” Weatherford trashed the “inconsistent and confusing” federal policies.

Weatherford noted the children of illegal immigrants get the benefits of K-12 education in Florida but not when they seek higher education. “Then we slam the doors on their future,” Weatherford said.

"Let's exercise our state's rights and open the door of opportunity for all of Florida's children." 

Saying it was the right thing to do economically, Weatherford said there was also a moral argument to be made on the issue. "We should never punish a child for the mistake of their parents," Weatherford said.

Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, told Sunshine State News last week he opposed the speaker on this issue.

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The Florida House welcomed two new members on Tuesday as the 2014 legislative session opened.

Rep. Amanda Murphy, D-New Port Richey, gave a playful thanks to Gov. Rick Scott for appointing Mike Fasano to serve as Pasco County tax collector, allowing her the chance to win his open House seat.

“It’s my goal to work with each one of you and find solutions to the issues we’re facing,” Murphy said. Adding she was a “lifelong Democrat,” Murphy said she would represent her whole community.“I’m here to represent everyone,” Murphy said. “I’m here to represent west Pasco.”

Also joining the House was Rep. Mike Hill, R-Pensacola, who said he would fight for opportunity and freedom.

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The conservative Concerned Women Political Action Committee (CWPAC) announced on Monday it was lining up behind Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, in the Repubican primary to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel in Congress. Benacquisto will take on former state Rep. Paige Kreegel and businessman Curt Clawson in the April 22 primary. 

“Lizbeth Benacquisto has shown courage and conviction in her personal life, demonstrating that she can rise above adversity and that she will be a true fighter for conservative principles,” said Penny Nance, the CEO of CWPAC. “She recognizes that humans are endowed by our Creator with inalienable rights and speaks for the most vulnerable in society with both compassion and grace. Lizbeth has intellect, experience and passion and will serve Southwest Florida and America admirably. She is a strong and principled leader.”

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There will be no resort casino included in the gambling bill proposed by the Florida House.

The 411-page proposal, HB 1383, released late Monday by the House Select Committee on Gaming, includes almost everything but.

Rob Schenck, chairman of the committee, released a statement:

"We create a strong gaming commission, clean up significant and glaring loopholes in current law, and respect the governor's role in negotiating a compact. The House also has a proposed constitutional amendment that will provide Floridians with the authority to decide future gaming expansion."

Committee members have said the House will propose a constitutional amendment Tuesday that would require 60 percent voter approval of any further gambling expansion, including destination resort casinos.

Prominent in HB 1383 is a five-member Gaming Control Commission. The governor would select members from a list provided by a legislative nominating committee.

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With the 2014 legislative session kicking off on Tuesday, Lenny Curry, the chairman of the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF), said on Monday there were major differences between the Republicans and Democrats in Tallahassee.

"The difference between the Republican and Democrat agendas for Florida is crystal clear,” Curry said. “Under Republican leadership, Florida has seen a dramatic turnaround in unemployment and the creation of over 462,000 new private-sector jobs. The Republican agenda this year will build on that success by providing Florida families with more educational opportunities for their children, enacting the largest amount of tax relief in a decade, working to keep our kids and seniors safe, and making Florida the most military-friendly state in the country.”

Curry contrasted that with Democrats, saying they were backing legislation too close to President Barack Obama’s policies to move Florida forward.

“Unfortunately, the Democrats are advancing an agenda in lockstep with President Obama, whose policies have failed to revitalize America's economy and whose so-called 'signature achievement,' Obamacare, isn't working,” Curry said. “It's clear that House Republicans are promoting an agenda that will help Florida families, but instead of joining in that effort, House Democrats are more interested in playing the president's tired and partisan politics."

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With the 2014 legislative session starting on Tuesday, Gov. Rick Scott  will double down on cutting taxes and not raising tuition in Florida colleges and universities. 

Scott is scheduled to give the State of the State address on Tuesday morning. The governor’s team unveiled parts of the speech on Monday which highlight Scott’s call to reduce taxes and fees. Scott’s proposal includes rolling back $400 million in state vehicle registration fees and cutting business rental taxes by $100 million.

“We have added almost a half a million jobs,” Scott will say in the speech. “Together, we have cut taxes 24 times already. ... And my hope is that we are about to cut them again ... by another $500 million this year.

“As I tell the hard-working people of Florida as I travel our state: We want you to keep more of the money you earn ... because it’s your money!” Scott will add.

Scott will showcase Florida as a “destination for opportunity” and will play up that theme in his address. 

“Today, we are moving the bar even higher,” Scott will say, noting his budget proposal will reduce the state debt by $170 million. Scott plans to add that lowering the state debt and reducing taxes will greatly improve Florida’s economy. “If we do all this, we can make Florida not just the Land of 700,000 New Jobs. We will make Florida the Land of Opportunity.”

Scott also plans to focus on higher education, showcasing his call for increased funding of Florida colleges and universities while promising to resist tuition increases. 

“Every parent wants their child to get a great education … and for many that doesn’t end at high school,” Scott says in the speech. “That’s why we are recommending $80 million in our budget this year for those colleges and universities who graduate students best positioned to get a job. We are changing how we fund higher education ... but if we want to make higher education more accessible to low- and middle-income families ... we have to make it more affordable. Last year, I vetoed a tuition increase that would have taken a total of more than $42 million from Florida families.

“And, this year, with your help, we want to get rid of the 15 percent annual increase and inflationary increase on tuition,” Scott plans to add. “Undoing these 2007 and 2009 laws is another way we can keep higher education affordable and accessible. My commitment to every family dreaming to send their children to college is simple: We will hold the line on tuition.”


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