Sunshine State News Blogs

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., weighed in on Tax Day for the need for reforming the IRS.

“Our tax code now totals more than 73,000 pages,” Rubio noted on Tuesday. “This complicated and broken tax code continues to stand in the way of job creation and is a burden for millions of Americans and small businesses. Currently, our tax code punishes companies for investing profits back into their business – money they could be using to hire more people, to give their workers raises, and to expand their operations. This needs to be fixed. In order for a pro-growth America we need tax reform to simplify and fix the current complicated system. ... As it stands, the tax code has a stifling effect on our economy, but with your help we can elect a conservative majority this November and move forward with real reform.”

Rubio is collecting petitions for tax reform through his Reclaim America PAC.

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The Eagle Forum, a conservative group led by Phyllis Schlafly, announced on Tuesday it was backing businessman Curt Clawson for the Republican nomination in the special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., in Congress. Clawson battles Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, and former state Rep. Paige Kreegel in the primary next Tuesday.

Pat Andrews, who leads the Florida Eagle Forum, released the following statement on Tuesday:

"Rarely do conservatives in Florida's Congressional District 19 have an opportunity to send a strong leader to Washington. With the United States having a less-than-bright financial future ahead of us, it's more important than ever to choose leaders that have a history of inspiring vision and decisive implementation.

"After vetting all of the candidates and weighing their past history with their goals and performance as leaders, Curt Clawson is the only candidate with true measurable, leadership experience combined with a well-thought-out, executable plan for our country.

"Curt's plan has the elements that conservatives have demanded on both the state and federal level for years, but have seen little action from our elected officials. It includes reforming our corporate tax code to make America competitive; restoring budget discipline; giving flexibility to states for Medicaid; reforming our burdensome regulatory processes; and repealing Obamacare.

"Running a campaign is difficult, but if Curt's running of his campaign with integrity is any indication of how he will conduct himself in Congress, then the choice is crystal clear for Florida Eagle Forum. We enthusiastically endorse Curt Clawson to represent us as Florida's 19th District congressman."

Clawson weighed in with praise for Schafly and Eagle Forum.

"Having the support and recognition of a group so dedicated to the pro-life cause, reducing the size of government and having a strong national defense gives our campaign so much momentum to finish strong,” Clawson said. “I want to thank Phyllis Schlafly and Pat Andrews for their tireless dedication to the conservative movement and the pro-life cause and when elected, we will fight to protect those same values in Congress."
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The Tampa Bay Times is reporting that former state CFO Alex Sink will not seek a rematch with U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., who bested her in a special election last month.

"While I am not running for office in 2014, I will keep an open dialogue with all of you and continue to seek new ways to serve," Sink insisted on Tuesday.

The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) quickly moved in to weigh in on the news.

“Washington Democrats can’t even convince their die-hard career politicians to walk the plank this November,” said Katie Prill, a spokeswoman for the NRCC. “It’s obvious that Alex Sink stood zero chance of beating David Jolly this November and her decision not to run only proves that the 2014 midterm elections are going to be extremely rough for Democrats across the country.”
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Former state Rep. Paige Kreegel pointed to his “A” rating from Florida Right to Life during his time in Tallahassee and insisted he would continue the fight against abortion if he wins the special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., in Congress. Kreegel battles businessman Curt Clawson and Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, in the Republican primary a week from Tuesday.

"If elected, I will continue to safeguard the rights of the unborn by way of pro-life policies,” Kreegel said on Tuesday.

Benacquisto unveiled her “A” rating from Florida Right to Life on Monday night.
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The Republican Governors Association (RGA) showcased Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., in its latest “American Comeback” video released on Tuesday.

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In the video, Scott talks up his personal story, how he rose from poverty and how his own experiences shaped what he fights for in the political arena, especially job creation. The Scott campaign is already running television ads, including some of which showcase the governor’s personal story.

Scott is a top target for Democrats in November. Despite having spent most of his political life as Republican, former Gov. Charlie Crist is the favorite to win the Democratic nomination to challenge Scott.

The script of the RGA video is as follows:

I don’t know my natural father. My mom got remarried a year or so after I was born. My adoptive father had a sixth-grade education. They struggled for money. I grew up in public housing.

But I lived in America, and I had every opportunity there was.

Thank goodness for a mom that cared and pushed. It doesn’t matter what was going to happen. She was going to put food on the table, and I was going to succeed.

And we grew up in this country. I mean, in America, anything is possible. So I worked. My first job was I delivered TV Guides door-to-door, 50 copies a week. I made 4 cents a copy. First and second grade, something you’d never let your kids do today.

I ran for governor because I care about the future of our state. I care about the future of all of our citizens.

I think about my family. I think about my dad’s face when his car got repossessed. I think about my mom and how hard it was for her to put food on the table. And so I think about those families. If those families can do well in our state, everybody does well. It drives you to, every day, get up and say, “What can I do today that’s going to increase the chance that companies are going to hire more people in Florida?”

Balancing a budget is a lot of work. You don’t make a lot of friends balancing the budget. Almost 3 years as governor and nobody comes to my office and says, “Gosh, I think you should spend less money in an area,” but you’ve got to live within your means. You got to figure out, you’ve got to find efficiencies, you’ve got to find savings, you’ve got to measure all your agencies.

It’s insanity what’s happening in Washington. What new regulation, what new tax, what new attack, what new lawsuit will the federal government throw at Florida that will impact our ability to create more jobs?

Our citizens want jobs. They want to live their dream. The dream is not having government dictate what you get to do. The dream is not having the government tell you what job you’re going to have.

I want our state to be No. 1:  the No. 1 place for your family to get a job, the No. 1 place for your children to get a great education. We’re going to have the jobs. We’re going to have the most growth.

My mom and my dad wanted something better for me, and I want people to have the same shot I had.

Republican governors are driving America’s comeback.

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With a week to go in the Republican primary in the special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., in Congress, Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, is playing up her pro-life credentials.

Benacquisto showcased her “A” rating from Florida Right to Life for her time in Tallahassee and vowed to continued fighting against abortion.

“As a mom, protecting life is my greatest priority and I am honored to receive an 'A' rating from Florida Right to Life,” Benacquisto noted late on Monday.
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The Republican Party of Florida filed an official complaint with the Federal Elections Commission over a Morgan & Morgan TV ad featuring Charlie Crist.

The ad aired Sunday on WCTV, a CBS Tallahassee affiliate station. 

Crist's employer and large Democrat donor John Morgan said the airing was a mistake and should have been pulled. 

"If it ran it was an error by the TV station," said Morgan. "All ads featuring Charlie were taken down the day he announced."

But the RPOF says TV ads being run by Morgan & Morgan featuring Charlie Crist are an unreported in-kind contribution that far exceeds the statutory contribution limit of $3,000 per person.

"It appears as though trial lawyer Charlie Crist continues to receive unreported help from his trial lawyer partners at Morgan & Morgan, but this shouldn’t come as a surprise," said RPOF Executive Director Juston Johnson. "Like the Morgan & Morgan billboards featuring Charlie, these TV ads are a clear violation of the law because, as a declared candidate, they qualify as a reportable contribution. Failing to report the TV ads is a clear breach of the law and a promise to work 'for the people.'"

Crist spokesman Eric Conrad brushed off the accusations, instead choosing to attack Gov. Rick Scott over a deposition in which he invoked the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution 75 times. 

"Typical Rick Scott – attacking others -- in this case a small business for making an honest mistake, while he is allowed to plead the Fifth 75 times," said Conrad. "He is the last person who should be lecturing someone else for a mistake – especially one that was thanking law enforcement officers and firefighters for their work.”


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U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., announced on Monday that he was backing businessman Curt Clawson in the Republican primary to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., in Congress. Clawson takes on Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, and former state Rep. Paige Kreegel in the primary on April 22.

Washington is desperate for outside leadership,” Paul said on Monday. “Curt Clawson is an outsider who will bring refreshing ideas to the halls of Congress. Today, I proudly stand with Curt Clawson in his quest to restore fiscal stability and common-sense government. Curt will stand with me in defending the Constitution. I urge the voters of Florida’s 19th Congressional District to send Curt to Washington. Our nation needs new leadership and the first step in the right direction would be electing Curt Clawson.”

"Having the leading voice for freedom, liberty and the United States Constitution in the United States Congress come on board our campaign cannot be overstated," Clawson said. "I am truly grateful for the support of Sen. Paul and if elected will join him in the fight to restore fiscal order in Washington. Simply put, this is the biggest day yet of this campaign.”
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With Passover starting at sunset on Monday, Gov. Rick Scott and some of the leading politicians in Florida offered their thoughts, especially in light of a shooter killing three people at a Jewish center in Overland Park, Kan., over the weekend.

"Ann and I wish all those celebrating Passover a happy and healthy holiday and I look forward to taking part in a traditional Seder with members of our Jewish community this evening,” Scott said on Monday. “Passover is a time where we can all reflect on the freedom we have in our great state and nation.

“However, as we begin celebrating this evening, we will not forget the innocent victims that were killed and hurt in Overland Park, Kan., this weekend when a gunman opened fire outside a Jewish community center and retirement home,” Scott added. “There is no place for these acts of evil in our society. Ann and I will continue to pray for all those affected by this terrible tragedy. Chag Sameach."

Former Florida Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich, who is running for her party’s gubernatorial nomination, used the occasion to speak out against sex slavery.

“At sundown tonight, many of us will begin the observance of Passover – a remembrance of the Israelites’ freedom from slavery in ancient Egypt more than 3,000 years ago,” Rich noted on Monday. “But we celebrate that freedom in the shadow of another form of slavery. Not the slavery of religious persecution – the slavery of women and children known as sex trafficking. Let us hope that one day soon we will not only celebrate the freedom of the Israelites, but also the end of all forms of slavery.”

U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., the chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), also weighed in on Passover and the shooting in Kansas.

“I am absolutely heartbroken by the tragedy that occurred in Overland Park, and my prayers go out to families of the victims of this horrific crime,” Wasserman Schultz said. “As the mother of three children who attended preschool at a Jewish community center, today's events in Kansas have struck a personal chord in my heart.

“As Jewish Americans around the country gather for Passover Seders to recount our own history of slavery and the redemption of freedom, we are harshly reminded of the many forms of hatred and injustice that still exist today,” Wasserman Schultz added. “And while the exact motives in this incident remain elusive, we know that the taking of innocent life is a reprehensible act for which there is no logical explanation. As these families mourn their loss and Passover begins without their loved ones, in the spirit of the holiday and for the betterment of humanity, let each of us recommit to the fight for a world free of hatred, where righteousness and goodness prevail.”

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The Florida Legislature may have taken a week off for Passover and Easter, but the Florida gubernatorial campaign showed no signs of slowing down on Monday as former Gov. Charlie Crist exchanged fire with Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera who played a traditional role for the running mate by going on the attack.

Crist, the favorite for the Democratic nomination to challenge Gov. Rick Scott despite spending most of his political year in the Republican ranks, spoke at the Forum Club of the Palm Beaches on Monday.

Lopez-Cantera, Scott's new running mate, was in attendance to keep tabs on Crist.

Despite the lieutenant governor's presence, Crist had kind words for Lopez-Cantera, calling him a “friend."

"I know he has a good heart,” Crist said.

Crist offered his own take on why he was seeking a political comeback after foregoing running for a second term in 2010, and instead opting to run for the U.S. Senate.

Bringing up conservative statesman Edmund Burke’s contention that all that is necessary for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing, Crist said he had major problems with the way Scott was running things in the Sunshine State.

The new Democrat also looked to get his liberal credentials in order as he looked to win over voters in his new party, jabbing Scott for his attack ads against then-state CFO Alex Sink in the 2010 gubernatorial contest and defending President Barack Obama’s federal health-care law.

“I'm the guy who says Obamacare is great, because it is,” Crist said. 

But others weren't too convinced by Crist.

"I feel like I'm watching a bad political movie,” said Lopez-Cantera in response to the former governor's remarks. “Charlie has become the unpleasant stereotype of a politician willing to say anything, do anything to further ambitions. When the state was in really bad shape, he didn't care about leadership. He left to pursue his own ambition.”

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Florida Polytechnic University named the first president in its history on Monday as a search committee selected Randy Avent, who had been serving as the associate vice chancellor of research development at North Carolina State University. The university is now negotiating with Avent and the state board of governors still has to approve the contract.

“Dr. Avent personifies the innovative, entrepreneurial qualities that we hope to inspire in our future students,” said Rob Gidel, the chairman of the university’s board of trustees. “As an institution focused on hands-on learning, we’re proud to welcome Dr. Avent, who has impressive experience and demonstrated commitment to applied research and academics.”

“Dr. Avent brings great intellect, achievement, integrity and a strong vision for Florida Polytechnic University,” said Don Wilson, a member of the board who was active in the presidential search. “He is the right person to guide the university and establish Florida Polytechnic as a nationally and internationally recognized institution of higher learning.”
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The Washington Post and the Guardian snagged the Pulitzer Prize for Public Service on Monday after blowing the lid off of the National Security Agency's widespread spying on ordinary American citizens last year.

Former NSA contractor Edward Snowden met with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras in Hong Kong after he downloaded approximately 1.7 million secret NSA files.

The stories, first published last June, shed light on a large surveillance program in which the NSA spied on telephone calls as well as a top-secret program known as PRISM, which collects foreign communications traffic from the servers of nine leading U.S. Internet companies. Since the information went public, several large Internet companies, like Google, have beefed up their own security measures to protect users from NSA-like spying. 

Snowden has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, but a winner will not be announced until October.  
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With tax day looming on Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., the chairman of House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, called for more IRS accountability, repealing President Barack Obama’s federal health-care law and implantation of the FairTax.

Crenshaw released the following statement on Monday:

“Americans know best how to spend their own money, not Washington. That’s why my fight to keep more hard-earned dollars in their wallets and bank accounts continues. Holding the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) accountable for its use of taxpayer dollars; replacing our outdated tax code with a fairer, simpler tax system like the FairTax; and defunding, repealing and replacing Obamacare are three steps I stand behind to help taxpayers.

“With recent revelations that the IRS targeted groups based on political belief, spent outrageous amounts of hard-earned taxpayer dollars on lavish conferences and videos, this agency has got to clean up its act. That’s why I told IRS Commissioner John Koskinen on April 7 I was ‘troubled’ by his request for a 10 percent ($1.2 billion) budget increase for fiscal year 2015. My subcommittee spent the better part of last year fighting for accountability from the IRS.

“We said ‘no’ to giving it more money to implement the nation’s new health-care law in fiscal year 2014. That step, in addition to expressly prohibiting the IRS from using taxpayer dollars to target taxpayers and saying ‘no’ to any more lavish spending on conferences and video production, is called accountability. We’ve got a ways to go until final approval of the IRS budget request, but I think it’s fair to say the final budget won’t resemble their initial request.

“Americans spend $265 billion and use 6.1 billion hours every year filing tax forms – money that could be better spent investing in a new business, buying a home, or saving for college. Implementing FairTax legislation would simplify the current code, replacing it with one transparent national sales tax on goods and services.

“I pushed Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan to include a recommendation in his budget bill that Congress take up the FairTax, and we are closer to that goal. With my support, the House passed the Ryan Budget last week -- legislation that states the Congress should consider FairTax legislation and other meaningful comprehensive tax reforms that Americans need and deserve. Moving forward, I’ll be keeping the pressure on to turn the FairTax into law.

"And, there is no more glaring example of damaging tax hikes -- 20 new or higher taxes on American families and small businesses -- than Obamacare.  My record against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is crystal clear: On Nov. 7, 2009, I voted against the bill and for the patient-centered health care of the Republican alternative. In more than 50 votes since, I have taken action to defund, repeal, and replace the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, and will continue to fight for health care that helps Americans, without raising their taxes.”
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Kathleen Sebelius called it quits from her position as secretary of Health and Human Services, and most voters think she's the one who's responsible for the problems with Obamacare so far. Voters also believe she was forced to resign for political reasons, but feel less hopeful that problems with the president's signature health-care law will be fixed more quickly by her successor. 

Sixty-three percent of likely U.S. voters believe Sebelius is at least somewhat responsible for the problems with the roll-out of the national health-care law, but 27 percent disagree, according to a new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey.

Although Sebelius resigned, only 12 percent believe the problems with the health-care law will be more quickly fixed now that she's being replaced. Half of voters -- 50 percent -- say the change in leadership will not lead to quicker fixes of the new law.Thirty eight percent are not sure.

Two-out-of-three voters -- 66 percent -- agree it’s more likely that Sebelius is stepping down as HHS secretary because she is under political pressure to quit. Less than a quarter (20 percent) think it’s more likely she is quitting because she wants to.

The survey of 1,000 likely voters was conducted April 11-12. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95 percent level of confidence. 

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Money is flowing into North Florida where U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., is battling Democrat Gwen Graham in one of the most closely watched congressional contests in the nation.

On Monday, Southerland announced his campaign had brought in $509,000 in the first quarter of 2014, raising their total to almost $1.5 million and having almost $1.2 million on-hand.

"Our record-breaking fundraising pace is a clear indication that the people of the 2nd District believe in our campaign and the North Florida values we're fighting for," said Southerland on Monday. "There could be no more humbling blessing than that. I look forward to continuing to build upon the friendships I've built with Republicans, Democrats, and independents in every corner and county of this district in the months and years ahead."

But Graham had a solid quarter herself, getting national attention from Roll Call for bringing in $485,000 at the start of 2014 and having $1.4 million on-hand.

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The team behind former Florida Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich is trying a new tactic as they look to gain ground on former Gov. Charlie Crist in the Democratic primary to see who will challenge Gov. Rick Scott in November: Florida Supreme Court nominees. On Monday, the Rich team turned up the heat on Crist, who is the favorite for the Democratic nomination despite spending most of his political life as a Republican, for naming conservatives to the Florida Supreme Court.

“Charlie Crist's legacy to Florida is Ricky Polston and Charles Canady -- the two most conservative justices on the Florida Supreme Court,” the Rich camp insisted. “Can we trust him with that power again? The next governor of Florida will appoint four of seven Supreme Court justices. Nan Rich will appoint fair and impartial judges and justices who are dedicated to equal protection under the law.”
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Businessman Curt Clawson went with a different tactic in his battle for the Republican congressional nomination in a special election in Southwest Florida. With barely a week to go until the primary, Clawson released a new commercial on Monday featuring peace and quiet which his team insisted on to contrast with commercials being run from his two main rivals: Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, and former state Rep. Paige Kreegel.

“We aren’t surprised that the career politicians have broken their word as their super-PACs continue to flood the airwaves with dishonest, negative attack ads,” said Clawson. “We are launching a new ad this morning with 30 seconds of peace and quiet to bring attention to the fact that these career politicians continue running nasty negative ads despite their commitment to the contrary.”

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To the chagrin of media critics and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson who wanted him fired, Jesse Panuccio will keep his job.

The embattled, $141,000-per-year executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity was overwhelmingly confirmed on the Senate floor Friday.

During various committee stops to win confirmation, Panuccio, 33, was grilled on the rocky roll-out of CONNECT, a $63 million unemployment benefits website that initially prevented thousands from collecting their weekly jobless payments in a timely manner. CONNECT's installation was a massive undertaking. The system replaces outmoded computer/software devised in the 1970s.

In March, the Gov. Rick Scott appointee told one committee, “I’ve learned a lot about leadership, about managing large organizations. ... It was a hard few months, much harder for the people being affected by delayed claims than it was for any of us, but I also feel proud of the team for working really tirelessly and countless hours to get this thing working.”

On Friday, after his final confirmation, Panuccio said, “I appreciate the confidence Gov. Scott and the Legislature have in me and the leadership of DEO. I look forward to continuing to serve Floridians and advancing policies that will help further Florida’s economic turnaround.”

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The Florida Senate unanimously passed SB 1642 on Friday, paving the way for an overhaul of Florida's K-12 school grading system. The bill would streamline school grades and suspend punishment for school grades for one year while a new state assessment test is introduced in Florida schools.

The passage of the bill won praise from Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida’s Future (aFloridaPromise), which lauded the legislation as a step in the right direction for schools in the Sunshine State.

“Florida was the first state to start grading its schools with the same scale we grade our students: A, B, C, D or F. The grades were based on how many students were performing at grade level in reading and math and the number of students who improved, even if they weren’t on grade level," said Executive Director Patricia Levesque. "This simple concept attracts interest and action from parents, teachers and entire communities. It has helped us reward success and identify where we need to better support our students, and it’s a major reason we’re one of the nation’s leaders in closing the achievement gap.
“Since what gets measured gets done, over the years additional measurements have been added, making the formula more complex. The bill passed from the Senate today provides for a simple formula based on objective student performance and learning gains. I’m grateful to Chairman Legg and President Gaetz for making this a priority.
“This is a critical step toward restoring focus, clarity and confidence in the school accountability system. Built on thoughtful recommendations from Commissioner Stewart, the plan focuses on the fundamentals. It will also give students and teachers a chance to adjust as Florida helps take student learning further with higher standards and a new assessment next school year.”

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U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., weighed in on Friday to the news that U.S. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is resigning her post. Crenshaw vowed to continue to oppose President Barack Obama’s federal health care which Sebelius played a major role in implementing.

"Obamacare has been a costly failure to millions of Americans who were promised one thing, but delivered another,” Crenshaw said. “I don't see a change at the helm of the Health and Human Services administration changing that fact. That's why I voted against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act from the start and will continue my fight to defund, repeal, and replace it with patient-centered health care for Floridians and all Americans."
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On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott announced 40 schools in Lee County will be getting $3.5 million due to high-performing bonuses.

“Our students and teachers in Lee County deserve to be rewarded for their hard work, and I am pleased to recognize them for their achievements with this $3.5 million investment,” Scott said. “One of my top priorities as governor is to create jobs and opportunities for Florida families. We know that a good job starts with a great education, and Florida continues to be a leader in education. I look forward to continued gains.”

Schools showing improvement or holding “A” grades over the last year qualified for the bonuses.
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With the resignation of U.S. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced on Thursday, Gov. Rick Scott said it was about time for Sebelius to leave her position.

Scott rose to political prominence by opposing President Barack Obama's federal health care, which Sebelius played a key part in implementing.

“The resignation of Secretary Sebelius is long overdue,” Scott said on Friday. “She was complicit with the president in selling falsehoods to the American people – namely that under Obamacare everyone could keep their current health-care plan, no one would lose their doctors, and that premiums would go down an average of $2,500 per family. All of these pledges have now been proven to be false. Her numerous trips to the Sunshine State were nothing more than PR tours."
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With a week and a half to go in the Republican primary in the special election to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., in Congress, Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, pointed toward her support of conservative items on the legislative calendar on Friday.

“Today is one of the Legislature’s busiest days of the year,” Benacquisto said on Friday. “The Florida Senate will convene at 9:30 a.m. to hear 30 bills up for vote on final passage and 28 additional bills that will come up on the calendar to be discussed and vetted.

“These important bills range from providing local control and accountability in our education system, to supporting Israel, protecting the unborn, making sure that the physically handicapped have a voice at homeowners’ meetings, and a bill that will help food banks access more fresh produce to help feed the needy while protecting our farmers,” Benacquisto continued. “I’m proud to continue to serve Southwest Florida in the Florida Senate as we pass common-sense conservative legislation.”

Pushing back against Common Core, Benacquisto is the co-sponsor of a bill to ensure K-12 instructional materials are left under local control. She is also co-sponsoring SB 162 which ensures “that a person who violates any provision of the Florida Criminal Code and causes the death or injury to an unborn child commits a separate offense that the violator can be prosecuted for.”

Benacquisto released a video statement on her stances on Friday. She takes on businessman Curt Clawson and former state Rep. Paige Kreegel in the April 22 primary.

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On Thursday, the University of Florida’s board of trustees kicked off the process to find a replacement for retiring President Bernie Machen. UF hopes to name a new president by the end of the spring 2015 semester.

Steve Scott, the vice chairman of the board, was tasked to lead the search committee to find a new president as Machen intends to retire by the end of the year. Scott is expected to name search committee members in the weeks to come.

“Bernie Machen has been a transformational leader,” said David Brown, chairman of the UF board of trustees on Thursday. “Even during the years when UF’s declining resources threatened our progress, Bernie found ways to grow our research operation, launch an innovation district, open a new medical research facility and award more scholarships to low-income students. When we asked him to extend his service to UF, he not only answered the call but worked with the state’s educational and political leaders to find new resources to launch us on our path to pre-eminence.”
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Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius is resigning from her position following a problematic roll-out of President Barack Obama's signature health-care law.

Sign-ups for Obamacare closed just over a week ago, but the initial opening weeks of the enrollment period were littered with problems, leaving many Americans unable to sign up for health care insurance.

The website was eventually fixed, however, and 7.1 million people signed up for health care by the March 31 deadline, a number exceeding initial expectations. 

According to White House sources, Obama accepted Sebelius' resignation this week and will nominate Office of Management and Budget Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell to replace Sebelius. 

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A $2 billion plan to help the Everglades received the green light on Thursday, when the South Florida Water Management District agreed to possibly pay half of the cost.

Following the approval by the SFWMD of a resolution for the Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), Gov. Rick Scott spoke on the plan, praising the members of SFWMD for moving forward on the issue.

“I want to thank the members of the South Florida Water Management District today for affirming our commitment to sending water south," said Scott. "We’re committed to restoring and protecting water quality for families along the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries, and this is an historic step that will put into motion projects that are critical to protecting Florida’s natural treasures.”

Congress still needs to pay for the other half of the project so that a final deal can be given the go-ahead by the district, then construction can begin.


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On Thursday, the U.S. House passed the budget proposal from U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., on a near party-line vote. The measure passed 219-205 with newly elected U.S. Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., joining 11 other Republicans to break with the GOP and voting against it.

Florida’s congressmen weighed in afterward with Republicans praising the proposal and Democrats continuing to oppose it.

“Americans know best how to spend their own money, not Washington,” said U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla. “When they can keep more in their own wallets and bank accounts, they can make the decisions that best suit their needs. That’s why I pushed Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan to include a recommendation in the budget bill for Congress to take up FairTax legislation.

“Americans spend $265 billion and use 6.1 billion hours every year filing tax forms – money that could be better spent investing in a new business, buying a home, or saving for college,” Crenshaw added. “With passage of the Republican budget, we are closer to House consideration of a FairTax and replacement of 70,000 pages of outdated code with one, transparent national sales tax on goods and services, administered primarily by the states.

“This Republican plan balances the budget and lays out a long-term vision to create jobs and grow the economy and provides economic peace of mind for millions of Americans,” Crenshaw concluded. “While tremendous challenges are ahead and much more work to be done, I am proud to support the Path to Prosperity as a step toward a stronger nation.”

Democrats went on the attack, insisting Ryan’s proposal would do nothing besides help higher earning Americans.

"The American people have consistently rejected Republican Budget Chairman Paul Ryan’s plan to give the wealthiest Americans another tax cut and pay for it by dismantling the Medicare guarantee, hiking taxes on middle class families, and slashing critical investments in our nation’s future,” said U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla. “Unfortunately, that has not stopped my Republican colleagues from once again embracing these dangerously misplaced priorities.

"The Ryan budget is an assault on seniors, students, and families struggling to pull themselves out of poverty,” Deutch added. “First, it makes radical cuts to vital assistance for low-income families, like anti-hunger programs for poor women with infant children, affordable child care provided through Headstart, and Pell Grants that help low-income students earn their degrees. Then, the GOP budget slashes the kinds of investments in research, infrastructure, and education that would create economic opportunity for these Americans. All told, at least three-quarters of the GOP budget’s $4.3 trillion in nondefense cuts target programs that hurt those who can least afford it, all the while giving tax cuts to billionaires who don’t need them.

"Our deficit has dropped to its lowest level in half a decade and yet millions of Americans are struggling with long-term unemployment, historically-low wages, and poverty,” Deutch concluded. “What Chairman Ryan and his colleagues fail to realize is that we will never get our fiscal house in order without closing our jobs deficit, growing the paychecks of middle class families, and advancing economic opportunity."
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Former Gov. Jeb Bush, R-Fla., has a slight edge on other potential Republican presidential candidates in 2016 when it comes to media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s support. Speaking with Fortune magazine, Murdoch played up his support of Bush and U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., while downplaying the likelihood he would back U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

"It's not necessarily, although slightly, in order of preference: Jeb Bush, Paul Ryan, whom I have particular admiration for,” Murdoch said. “I do for both. Chris Christie could recover. Scott Walker, whom I don't know, and Rand Paul, whom I agree with on a great number of things but disagree strongly on some things -- too strongly perhaps to vote for him.

“I think he's a man of very fine character,” Murdoch said of Bush. “He was a great governor. And I particularly like his policy on education, which I'm hardest on. My No. 1.

"Paul Ryan is the straightest arrow I've ever met,” Murdoch added. “He's hard-working. He knows where every dollar goes in Washington. He's emerging as the natural leader."

H/t Political Wire

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U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., is set to have a Republican primary opponent come August. Retired Navy Capt. Ryman Shoaf, who briefly served on the staff of U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., last year announced on Wednesday that he had made the ballot by petition to challenge Crenshaw on the First Coast.

“The time, effort and support our volunteers poured into this effort is a testament that Northeast Florida is hungry for new leadership in Washington,” said Shoaf, “I am truly humbled that thousands of concerned citizens across Northeast Florida would sign on to our campaign and place my name on the ballot.”

“I am a firm believer that our representatives in Washington should reflect the values of the district they represent, not the special interests in D.C.,” Shoaf added. “The people I met and the issues they shared while I was collecting petitions indicate a deep concern for the direction of our country, which is why I am stepping out to make a difference.”
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The Lakeland Ledger has received the prestigious Brechner Center for Freedom of Information award for its successful battles to keep public records and government accessible.

This is a coveted national award, it recognizes excellence in reporting about freedom of information, access to government-held information or the First Amendment and it's a significant effort on behalf of all Floridians.

The Ledger submitted five stories, including ones on the Polk County School Board requiring people to present identification before entering meetings; the Lakeland Fire Department making people who want public records fill out a form to get them; and the city of Winter Haven failing to keep written minutes of its meetings. All three organizations changed their practices after The Ledger wrote stories as part of its weekly investigative Eye on Polk series.

"The series (of Ledger stories) exposed blatant violations of the law, and forced a number of local agencies and officials to change their procedures to comply with the law," Sandra Chance, executive director of the Gainesville-based Brechner Center for Freedom of Information, said Tuesday.

A series like The Ledger's serves as a reminder that open government isn't automatic, that the laws are only as effective as government's commitment to transparency. It takes a vigilant free press to engage the citizenry, to demand government act in the sunshine and under the law.

Past winners of the award include the Detroit Free Press, Miami Herald, The Associated Press, San Francisco Examiner and Washington Post.

Read the full story in The Ledger here. 

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