Sunshine State News Blogs

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama announced the United States will, for the first time since the Eisenhower administration, resume full diplomatic relations with Cuba, drawing the fire of Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla. Wednesday also saw the exchange of aid worker Alan Gross -- who has been accused by the Castro regime of being a spy and imprisoned for five years -- for three Cuban spies.

National media reports on Wednesday noted Obama and Cuban regime leader Raúl Castro had been negotiating for 18 months in secret talks with the aid of Canada and the Vatican. Obama and Castro spoke earlier this week via telephone as they reached a final agreement.

“Today’s release of Alan Gross from Cuban prison is long overdue, and I am relieved and pleased for him and his family,” Scott said on Wednesday. “However, it is unconscionable for President Obama to hand over spies responsible for the murder of two U.S. citizens, especially since Mr. Gross should have never been incarcerated. Time and time again, the Castro regime has chosen violence and suppression over freedom and democracy, and the Obama administration’s actions of appeasement to dictators diminish the United States’ role of being a beacon for democracy. As long as Cuba chooses dictatorship over democracy, I will continue to support the embargo and sanctions against them. President Obama is giving in to a tyrannical government that does not value human rights and completely disregards the people of Cuba who are fighting for democracy.”

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Cynthia O’Connell will stay in Gov. Rick Scott’s administration, keeping her post as secretary of the Florida Lottery which she has held since 2011.

“Under Secretary O’Connell’s leadership, the Florida Lottery brought in record sales resulting in an all-time record transfer to Florida’s Education Enhancement Trust Fund,” Scott said on Wednesday.:She is committed to continuing to maximizing funding for education, and I’m confident her work will help us on our path to make Florida the global leader in job creation.”

“I am thankful for the opportunity Gov. Scott has given me to continue to serve as secretary of the lottery,” O’Connell said. “As Florida’s economy continues to thrive, the lottery will work to increase our record investments into Florida’s Education Enhancement Trust Fund. We will also continue to work with the governor to make Florida the best place to get a great education and raise a family.”

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U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., expressed cautious optimism after President Barack Obama’s announcement of some normalization of American relations with Cuba and the exchange of aid worker Alan Gross -- who has been accused by the Castro regime of being a spy and imprisoned for five years -- for three Cuban spies.

“The success of this monumental development depends on Castro’s willingness to grant basic democratic freedoms for the Cuban people,” Nelson said on Wednesday.

Nelson said the embargo on Cuba should remain in place until the Castro regime takes steps toward granting freedom for the Cuban people.

“Let's see if Castro changes the behavior of a brutal police state and provides freedoms for the Cuban people,” Nelson said.

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From his perch on the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., tore into President Barack Obama after news emerged that the administration exchanged three Cuban spies for aid worker Alan Gross who had been imprisoned by the Castro regime for five years.

"Alan Gross was unjustly imprisoned by the Castro dictatorship and his return is long overdue,” DeSantis said on Wednesday. “I am happy for him and his family. I am dismayed that, in exchange for the release of Gross, the Obama administration agreed to release imprisoned Cuban spies who conspired to kill Americans, as such an action legitimizes the Castro regime's coercive tactics. This prisoner swap sends a signal to rogue regimes and actors that taking an American hostage can be leveraged into scoring policy concessions. This makes America less safe and emboldens the dictatorship in Cuba.”

DeSantis also ripped Obama for looking to normalize relations with Cuba.

“Reports suggest that the Obama administration will also unilaterally relax sanctions on Cuba, even though 11 million Cubans still chafe under Castro's tyranny,” DeSantis said. “The goal of U.S. policy should be to liberate these hostages from the oppressive Castro regime, not to reward the regime with relaxed sanctions.”

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U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Fla., cheered the news that Alan Gross was being released by the Castro regime but slammed the Obama administration for trying to normalize relations. Diaz-Balart also hit Obama for releasing three Cuban spies.

"Alan Gross should never have spent one day in prison and we are glad that he will finally be reunited with his family,” Diaz-Balart said on Wednesday. “However, the way that his release was achieved is outrageous and proves that once again, President Obama is the Appeaser in Chief who is willing to provide unprecedented concessions to a brutal dictatorship that opposes U.S. interests at every opportunity.

“The three remaining Cuban spies whom President Obama is releasing were convicted for spying on U.S. military installations, and one was convicted for his role in the shoot-down of an American civilian aircraft in international airspace, which murdered three innocent Americans and one U.S. resident,” Diaz-Balart added. “Their early release is an egregious miscarriage of justice. In addition, providing diplomatic relations and further weakening sanctions attempt to legitimize and provide hard currency to our hemisphere's worst human rights abuser. President Obama's actions are an unconscionable betrayal of America's fundamental values and a profound insult to the oppressed Cuban people.

“The unjust imprisonment and inhumane treatment of Alan Gross demonstrates the utter depravity of the Castro regime, as well as the severe repression that has afflicted the Cuban people for decades,” Diaz-Balart said. “President Obama's decision to allow the Castro regime to blackmail the United States and abandon our pro-democracy principles is an outrage. These changes to policy will further embolden the Cuban dictatorship to continue brutalizing and oppressing its own people as well as other anti-American dictatorship and terrorist organizations."

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Gov. Rick Scott announced on Wednesday that Ken Detzner will remain as secretary of the Department of State.

“I am happy to announce the reappointment of Ken Detzner as secretary of the Department of State,” Scott said on Wednesday. “Ken has been instrumental in overseeing fair and transparent elections in Florida. Ken has done a great job working with election supervisors to ensure a smooth election process. He is also committed to continuing to enhance Florida’s business-friendly climate. I am confident Ken will continue to work to make Florida the best place to live and work.”

“I am honored to be reappointed as secretary of the Department of State,” Detzner said. “We have worked tirelessly to ensure Florida has smooth and fair elections. Under Gov. Scott’s leadership, we will continue to make Florida the top destination for families.”

Detzner was named to his current post in 2012.

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On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., met with the U.S. mission to the United Nations to deliver a letter signed by almost 90 members of Congress warning about rising anti-Semitism around the globe and urging the U.N. to do more to combat it. Murphy met with Charles Radcliffe, the head of the global issues section of the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and Leonardo SC Castilho, a human rights officer with OHCHR.

"I thank Mr. Radcliffe, Mr. Castilho, and the U.N. for their commitment to promoting and protecting human rights across the world and I look forward to continuing to work together to find ways we can expand international efforts to address this pressing global issue," Murphy said. "I hope the U.N.'s upcoming meeting on the rise of global anti-Semitism results in positive action from all member states to combat such hateful acts throughout our international community."

Three of the four organizers of the letter hailed from the Sunshine State: Republican U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart and Democrats U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch and Murphy. U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, also helped lead efforts on the letter.

Signers ranged the political spectrum from conservatives such as U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., to liberals like U.S. Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y. Members of the Florida delegation who signed the letter were Republicans U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and Democrats U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson, U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and U.S. Rep. Frederica Wilson.

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Despite not yet starting his second term in the U.S. House, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., will chair the U.S. House Subcommittee on National Security for the 114th Congress. U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, the chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform named DeSantis to the post on Tuesday.

"The federal government's core responsibility is to protect the security of our nation and the American people,” DeSantis said. “Yet, from the release of terrorist detainees by the Defense Department to habitual failures of the Department of Homeland Security regarding border security, the bureaucracy has fallen short of what the American people expect. I am thankful to Chairman-elect Jason Chaffetz for tapping me to lead this subcommittee, and I look forward to working with him and the rest of the committee's members to hold our national security agencies accountable on behalf of the American people."

“Congressman DeSantis’ military experience and leadership will help ensure effective oversight and accountability on some of the biggest issues facing national security,” Chaffetz said. “I look forward to working with him in his new role.”

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Rick Swearingen, a 30- year veteran of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) currently leading Capitol Police, was named interim director of the FDLE on Tuesday.

“With over 30 years of service at FDLE, Rick has dedicated his career to protecting Florida families and making sure Florida is a safe state for our residents, visitors and businesses,” Gov. Rick Scott said on Tuesday. “I look forward to working with Rick and the entire department as we continue to keep our crime rate at a 43-year low. I would like to thank Commissioner Bailey for his service at FDLE and for all he has done to keep our state safe. He has been a terrific leader in our law enforcement community.”

“I am honored to be chosen by Gov. Scott to lead FDLE,” Swearingen said. “As a lifelong Floridian, I care deeply about making Florida the safest state in the nation for our families and visitors. FDLE will continue to focus on helping Florida remain at a 43-year low in its crime rate so every family can live in a safe community.”

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The Republican Party of Florida released the following statement from chairman of the Republican Party of Florida's Jewish Leadership Council, Honorable Dr. Jeffrey Feingold, on Tuesday to coincide with the beginning of Chanukah, the Jewish festival of lights:

"Chanukah is a celebration of light and a celebration of life. We rejoice on Chanukah for our religious freedom, our continued survival, our hope, our renewed spirit, and our progress toward peace."

"On behalf of Chairman Leslie Dougher and the Republican Party of Florida, we wish you a Chag Sameach Chanukah, Happy Chanukah and a healthy, happy, and peaceful New Year. Chazak, chazak, v'nitchazek -- may we go from strength to strength."

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Even as Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi asks the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of a federal decision striking down the state constitutional amendment recognizing only traditional marriage in the Sunshine State, the Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers executive director weighed in on Tuesday, warning members not to issue same-sex marriage licenses until there is a binding order in place.

“Florida’s Court Clerks and Comptrollers’ duty is to act in accordance with Florida law. Florida Statutes are unique in regard to prohibiting the issuance of a marriage license to a couple that is not a man and a woman, in that it provides that a clerk who violates this prohibition is guilty of a criminal act and subject to a fine and/or imprisonment,” said Kenneth Kent, the executive director of the Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers. “Florida’s Court Clerks and Comptrollers are responsible for administering the law; therefore, it is not within their purview to interpret the law or act without a full understanding of what the law does and does not allow.

“At this time of uncertainty, the Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers have been advised by the association to follow the advice of our legal counsel and not issue same-sex marriage licenses until a binding order is issued by a court of proper jurisdiction,” Kent added.

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Gov. Rick Scott named Chad Poppell as secretary of the Department of Management Services (DMS) on Tuesday. Poppell has been chief of staff at the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) for almost two years.

“Chad has been a great leader at DEO, and has made it his mission to help Florida families succeed,” Scott said on Tuesday. “With more than a decade of service in government administration and his experience managing human resources for the city of Jacksonville, Chad will be a terrific leader at DMS. I know he will remain dedicated to promoting efficiency and providing support to Florida’s state agencies as they protect taxpayer investments in government.”

“I am thankful for the opportunity to serve as the secretary of the DMS and I am excited to work together with my fellow state agencies on behalf of all Floridians,” Poppell said. “I look forward to helping execute Gov. Scott’s vision of making Florida the best state in the nation to live, work and raise a family.”

Before his time at DEO, Poppell was director of employee services of JEA in Jacksonville. During his time in office, Mayor John Peyton of Jacksonville named Poppell chief of human resources for the city government.

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Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush announced Tuesday he will "actively explore" running for president in 2016. 

Tuesday's announcement isn't a definite decision by Bush to run for president, but it's the closest announcement he's made to confirming a run so far. 

“Like many of you, our family was blessed with the opportunity to gather together over the recent Thanksgiving holiday,” Bush wrote. “Columba and I are so proud of the wonderful adults our children have become, and we loved spending time with our three precious grandchildren. We shared good food and watched a whole lot of football.

“We also talked about the future of our nation,” Bush added. “As a result of these conversations and thoughtful consideration of the kind of strong leadership I think America needs, I have decided to actively explore the possibility of running for president of the United States.”

Bush plans to create an organization after the holidays that will help position him for a possible bid.

“In January, I also plan to establish a leadership PAC that will help me facilitate conversations with citizens across America to discuss the most critical challenges facing our exceptional nation,” Bush noted. “The PAC’s purpose will be to support leaders, ideas and policies that will expand opportunity and prosperity for all Americans. In the coming months, I hope to visit with many of you and have a conversation about restoring the promise of America.”

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Gov. Rick Scott is keeping Ken Lawson as secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR).

“I am proud to announce the reappointment of Ken Lawson as secretary of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation,” Scott said on Tuesday. “Ken has worked every day to streamline the permitting process and reduce burdensome regulations. Under his leadership at DBPR, we have cut professional license wait times from 41 days to an average of two days. Ken has played an integral role in creating a business climate conducive to growth and expansion."

“It is an honor to have the opportunity to continue my work with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation,” Lawson said. “Our department is committed to creating an environment for all businesses to succeed.”

Lawson started at his post in March 2011 after serving as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Florida and as an assistant secretary of enforcement for the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

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Gov. Rick Scott announced on Tuesday that juvenile arrests continued to drop in Florida, with a reduction of 8 percent in 2013-14. A new report from the state Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) has found a 36 percent decline in juvenile arrests in the last five years, leading to the lowest juvenile arrest level in more than 30 years..

“Making Florida the best state in the nation to get a job and raise a family is our mission – and that starts with making sure we have safe communities for our families and job creators,” Scott said on Tuesday. “I would like to thank everyone at the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice and our hard-working law enforcement community for their continued work.”

“This decrease in arrests over nearly every juvenile offense category, including serious offenses, shows that DJJ’s reform initiatives are working,” said Interim Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Christina Daly. “Our department made a commitment to transforming our state’s juvenile justice system to provide the right services to Florida’s youth while remaining focused on increasing public safety. While we are proud of the work we’ve done, this is only the beginning of what our agency, along with our many stakeholders, can accomplish.”

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Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi announced on Monday that her office has asked the U.S. Supreme Court for a stay of a federal decision which would allow same-sex marriage in the Sunshine State. Under the current decision, the amendment to the Florida Constitution recognizing only traditional marriage approved by voters at the ballot box in 2008 will come to an end on Jan. 5.

“When the United States District Court for the Northern District of Florida ordered the Washington County clerk of court to issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple, it temporarily stayed the order,” Bondi’s office announced on Monday. “That stay is now set to expire at the end of the day on Jan. 5, 2015. The recent decision denying a longer stay has created statewide confusion about the effect of the injunction, which is directed to only one of Florida's sixty-seven clerks of court.

“In a continuation of the effort to maintain uniformity and order throughout Florida until final resolution of the numerous challenges to the voter-approved constitutional amendment on marriage, the attorney general’s office filed with the United States Supreme Court an application to extend the stay,” Bondi added. “If the Supreme Court grants the application, the stay will remain in place during the state's appeal. If the Supreme Court denies the stay, then the preliminary injunction will become effective at the end of the day on Jan. 5, 2015.”

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The Revenue Estimating Conference released a report on Monday showing Florida’s general revenue is up $296 million while next year the general revenue will be almost $332 million higher than expected forecasts.

Gov. Rick Scott said the increased revenue shows Florida’s economy is coming back strong.

“Today’s news of increased revenue reflects the positive steps we are taking to grow our economy,” Scott said on Monday. “We are working every day to make Florida the premier destination in the world for business and I applaud our job creators who have helped add almost 680,000 new private-sector jobs in less than four years. Job growth is an indicator of our economic strength and we hope to see even more gains. Because we are creating an environment where our private sector can succeed, our economy is growing which makes it possible for us to invest in areas important to Florida families. I look forward to working with the Legislature to continue to cut taxes by $1 billion over the next two years and increase K-12 per pupil funding to the highest level in our state’s history this coming year.”

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Gov. Rick Scott said on Monday that Dr. John Armstrong will stay on in his administration as Florida surgeon general and secretary of the Florida Department of Health (DOH).

“As a medical professional and expert in public health preparedness, Dr. Armstrong has dedicated his life to serving others,” Scott said on Monday. “He has been a great leader at DOH, and has worked each day to support public health goals, link Floridians to needed health care services, and educate communities on good health habits. Dr. Armstrong has also taken every possible step to ensure our state and hospitals are fully prepared to handle any potential cases of Ebola. I am confident he will continue to work toward improving the health and wellness of our state as we make Florida the best place to live, work and raise a family.”

“It is an honor to have the opportunity to continue my service to the state of Florida as state surgeon general and secretary of DOH,” Armstrong said. “We are committed to working with Gov. Scott and communities across the state in order to protect and promote the health of all Floridians.”

Armstrong was named to his current post back in April 2012.

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Former Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) Chairman Lenny Curry announced on Monday that he had reeled in the support of three members of the Florida Cabinet as he runs against Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, the first Democrat to hold that post since former Mayor Ed Austin in the early 1990s. State Attorney General Pam Bondi, Florida’s CFO Jeff Atwater and state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said on Monday they were backing Curry.

"For these three principled conservatives to offer their support and place their trust in me is humbling," said Curry. "I am proud that such respected leaders have joined our campaign to make Jacksonville a city where every person in every neighborhood can see their dreams become a reality."

Curry is not the only Republican looking to beat Brown. Jacksonville City Councilman Bill Bishop is also running in the March 24 election and there is some buzz that former state Rep. Mike Hogan, who Brown beat in 2011, could emerge for another run. There are no party primaries in the Jacksonville mayoral race. If no candidate gets a majority on March 24, the top two candidates will face a runoff election on May 19.

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As the Democrats ready to cede control of the U.S. Senate to Republicans in the coming weeks, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., now in the middle of his third term, will rank as one of the senior Democrats in the chamber.

The Senate Democratic leadership announced its committee assignments on Friday and Nelson garnered a few plum assignments. Nelson will lead Democrats on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and sit on the Armed Services, Finance and Aging committees. Nelson will be the second highest Democrat on Armed Services and is the senior -- but not ranking -- member of his party on the Aging Committee.

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U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a possible contender for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016, announced on Friday that he would take up U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho’s, R-Fla., “Preventing Executive Overreach on Immigration Act” in the Senate. Yoho’s bill to prevent President Barack Obama from using an executive order to allow illegals a path to stay in the nation passed the U.S. House earlier this month.

"I believe that the Constitution is clear that the legislative power resides in Congress,” Paul said on Friday. “The president is not a king and he does not have the power to enact laws then execute his own laws. Our Constitution is being violated by this executive order and other actions by the Obama administration to govern by executive fiat.”

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The U.S. House voted to pass the $1.1. trillion omnibus federal spending bill on Thursday by a narrow margin, 219-206, with the Florida delegation breaking along unusual lines.

While 162 Republicans backed the measure, 67 of them voted against it. Democrats mostly stood against it with 139 opposing it while 57 supported the measure. President Barack Obama and U.S. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, supported the bill but some liberals balked due to concerns that the measure undermined the Dodd-Frank financial regulations, while some conservatives objected due to the bill doing little to defund Obama’s executive action giving 5 million illegals extended visas and a path to citizenship.

The bill funds the federal government until Sept. 30, 2015, with the exception of the Department of Homeland Security which is funded until Feb. 27, giving conservatives another chance to hit Obama’s immigration action with a Republican-controlled U.S. Senate.

The Florida delegation broke on very unusual lines: 14-13. Florida Republicans U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, Ander Crenshaw, Mario Diaz-Balart, David Jolly, John Mica, Rich Nugent, Tom Rooney, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Dennis Ross, Steve Southerland and Ted Yoho backed the measure. They were joined by Florida Democrats Patrick Murphy and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. The Democratic leadership was divided on the measure with U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., opposing it but Wasserman Schultz joining U.S. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., in supporting it.

Standing against the measure were Florida Republicans U.S. Reps. Curt Clawson, Ron DeSantis, Jeff Miller, Bill Posey and Dan Webster as did Florida Democrats U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch, Lois Frankel, Joe Garcia, Alan Grayson, Alcee Hastings and Frederica Wilson.

The measure now heads to the Senate for a final vote.

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With the U.S. House passing sanctions, including freezing assets, on the Venezuelan leadership on Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott urged President Barack Obama to back the measure now that it’s headed to his desk.

“I commend the U.S. House for taking up and passing the Senate’s bill to place sanctions on the oppressive Venezuelan regime,” Scott said on Thursday. “In particular, Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen has provided tireless leadership on this issue, standing up for the people of Venezuela in opposition to Nicholas Maduro and his reign of violence. I urge the president to hear the voice of the people and immediately sign this bill, which is an important step in the long march toward freedom and democracy in Venezuela.”

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Gov. Rick Scott focused on rural road improvement on Thursday, appearing in Belle Glade to focus on how that town, Pahokee and South Bay will receive $3.8 million in his “Rural Areas of Opportunity” program.

“Building and repairing roadways in rural communities is a top priority to help Florida continue to be the world’s No. 1 tourist and business destination,” Scott said on Thursday. “This $3.8 million investment will allow our rural communities in Palm Beach County to make important roadway upgrades so they can continue to grow. We are committed to increasing economic activity and job creation across Florida so every family can get a great job and live their dreams in the Sunshine State.”

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U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., will hold a public event on “Mental Health and Substance Abuse” at Rasmussen College in Land O' Lakes next week and he will be joined by a congressman from Pennsylvania. Bilirakis announced on Thursday that U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., will be at the event on Tuesday.

“Our solution-oriented discussion will focus on how to fix a broken system and ensure better outcomes,” Bilirakis said on Thursday. “One important aspect of this conversation are the treatment options available to our nation’s veterans as they grapple with Post Traumatic Stress and other invisible wounds. One size does not fit all, especially when it comes to an issue as sensitive as mental health.

“I am honored to have Representative Murphy joining me – he is the undisputed leader in Congress on this issue,” Bilirakis added. “The good work he is doing will undoubtedly offer substantial improvements in the way this important issue is viewed and the treatment options available to those with mental illness.”

“I thank Representative Bilirakis for taking up this legislative cause and for standing shoulder-to-shoulder with me to help those who, for far too long, have been in the shadows of ignorance and despair,” Murphy said. “We will continue working to bring them into that bright light of hope, and it starts with the Helping Families in Mental Health Crisis Act."

Other participants of the event include Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco and Leigh Massengill, the CEO of Medical Center of Trinity.

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U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., saw his “Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Act” pass the U.S. House last week and expects the U.S. Senate to pass it in the coming days, but now he is looking to rename the bill after a supporter of it who passed away earlier this week. 

Crenshaw called on Wednesday to rename the bill after Stephen Beck Jr., who died on Monday at the age of 44. Beck, whose daughter has Down syndrome, was an advocate of the bill which would create tax-free savings accounts for disabled Americans and who served as vice chairman of the board of the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS).

“The disability advocacy community has lost a true champion, and my thoughts and prayers go out to Steve’s family, friends, and colleagues,” said Crenshaw. “Steve represents the soul of the ABLE Act and played a central role in getting if off the ground more than eight years ago.”

“More importantly, on behalf of his own daughter, Natalie, and millions of others with disabilities, Steve never gave up hope that ABLE would move across the congressional finish line and become law of the land,” Crenshaw added. “He had a huge smile on his face when the gavel came down last Wednesday, marking House passage of the bill that empowers millions of Americans to reach for their dreams. History was made in large part because of his steadfast dedication to improve the quality of life for so many – an important lesson we would all do well to keep close a heart.”

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On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., issued his take on the omnibus federal spending bill currently in Congress. Rubio insisted the bill was flawed but praised it for not providing bailouts to insurance companies in the wake of President Barack Obama’s federal health-care law.

“For over a year, I’ve fought to protect Americans from having to fund massive bailouts to protect the profits of the insurance companies that helped write Obamacare,” Rubio said on Wednesday. “While there is much in this massive spending measure that is simply bad for America, at least the provisions protecting against a taxpayer-funded bailout of insurance companies are a step in the right direction. While the Obama administration can still administer the risk-corridor program, for one year at least, they won’t be able to use taxpayer funds to bail out insurance companies. When Congress returns next year, I will fight to permanently repeal the risk-corridor provisions to protect taxpayers after the current legislation expires.”

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Gov. Rick Scott named Julie Jones as secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections (DOC) on Wednesday. Jones will take the post on Jan. 5.

“Julie Jones has had a distinguished career working with our state’s law enforcement community for over 30 years,” Scott said on Wednesday. “It is evident through her work across state government that she is a true reformer who is laser-focused on ensuring accountability and transparency. She led the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles for nearly five years with integrity, and under her leadership she managed a complete restructuring of the agency that led to more oversight. She also secured Cabinet approval for a performance plan to ensure the agency was running efficiently while holding employees accountable. Florida’s recidivism rate continues to decline and I know she will be committed to making sure it drops even further and making much needed reforms with the current system. I am confident Julie will be an effective leader at DOC and make sure the agency is run with accountability and integrity.”

“I am honored to be appointed by Governor Scott to lead DOC,” Jones said. “My top priority is to make sure Florida is the safest state in the nation to raise a family and I look forward to working with stakeholders and our entire law enforcement community to meet that goal. I am also focused on making sure offenders are able to integrate back into their communities when they are released so they have the chance to get a job and build a meaningful career. It is my commitment to build a strong culture of ethics at DOC to ensure transparency for all Floridians.”

Jones served as an officer and director of law enforcement during her 26 years in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission before moving to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles where she served as executive director from 2009 to 2014.

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With the U.S. Senate voting this week to impose sanctions and freezing the assets of key leaders of the Maduro regime, Gov. Rick Scott applauded the move.

“I commend the Senate today for passing legislation that will sanction the current oppressive Venezuelan regime by revoking visas and freezing assets,” Scott said on Tuesday. “For too long, the Maduro regime has used violence to oppress Venezuela’s citizens, and today’s sanctions on those oppressors are a step in the right direction. I also remain concerned about Leopold Lopez and other Venezuelans who are currently jailed for protesting.”

Scott said he hoped President Barack Obama will do more on the matter.

“I urge President Obama to show leadership on this issue and take swift action to stand up with the people of Venezuela who are struggling for democracy,“ Scott said.

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Democrats in the Florida congressional delegation weighed in on Tuesday after the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee, still controlled by Democrats until the GOP takes over in January, released extended details on how the CIA obtained intelligence on terrorism, including using torture techniques.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee and used to sit on the Senate Intelligence Committee, backed the decision to release this information.

“Since 2001, we’ve made a number of decisions to strengthen our nation's defenses against terrorist attacks,” Nelson said. “Many of these decisions have saved lives while mistakes and abuses, such as those in this report, have been rightly criticized. We must remember that it is the goal of the U.S. intelligence community to gather information about a shadowy enemy determined to do us harm.”

But U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, D-Fla., tore into the committee for releasing the information.

“I strongly disagree with the Senate Intelligent Committee’s decision to release information contained in the CIA report,” Brown said on Tuesday. “Although I support transparency in our national intelligence programs, I do not believe this information needed to be made public. I am extremely concerned about the unintended consequences the report’s public release may have for members of our military based overseas, as well as our embassy personnel and U.S. citizens working abroad. As we have seen time and time again, many dangerous terror organizations, such as ISIL and al-Qaida, are looking for excuses to vilify America and the West, and this report, even though the practices contained in it are no longer used, may do just that. Secretary of State John Kerry voiced similar concerns last week when he ‘warned that allies were concerned that the report could incite violence in the Middle East,’ and that ‘he wanted to make sure that foreign policy implications were being appropriately factored into timing (of its release).’”

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