Sunshine State News Blogs

Dole campaign button

Waggish Roger Stone, one of my favorite authors, a general bon vivant and Florida political-everything, may be a little despondent about the GOP's 2016 White House prospects. My clue is this campaign button he sent me to wear.

He asks, "You got anyone better?" 

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Gov. Rick Scott sent a letter Wednesday to Jeff Miller, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives' Committee on Veterans Affairs, requesting that field hearings be held in Florida regarding allegations of neglect plaguing the federal VA facilities.

The letter reads:  

Dear Chairman Miller:

I want to thank you for your leadership in drawing attention to the concerning activities taking place in federal VA hospitals. To further shed light on issues plaguing these VA hospitals, I would like to extend an invitation for the U.S. House Committee on Veterans Affairs to hold field hearings in Florida.

With more than 1.5 million veterans, Florida would provide your committee the opportunity to receive input from veterans who rely on the federal VA hospitals for their health care services. Their insight is invaluable, and would provide members of your committee with the type of firsthand account of the VA’s shortcomings that will enable your committee to create the needed transparency and improvements that our veterans deserve.

Numerous veterans have written to my office on the matter and contributed their own stories of the VA’s neglect and incompetence. Richard, a Vietnam veteran from Palm Beach County, was diagnosed with colon cancer. Despite the prognosis, his surgery was cancelled because the doctor suggested they “wait and see” what happened. He then went to a different VA for a second opinion, and they confirmed he needed surgery and quickly scheduled it. Richard told us that if he had followed the “wait and see strategy” of the first VA he may not be around today. 

John, a Vietnam veteran from Pinellas County, says the VA denied his request for a new primary care physician. After seven months, he was finally able to get a new doctor and was diagnosed with stage two colon cancer.

Finally, Casey, in Palm Beach County, is a disabled combat veteran of both Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation Enduring Freedom who took a nursing assistant job at a VA Medical Center. Casey told us that “the patients’ safety and health were at risk.” According to Casey, patients are not receiving the care they need, and there is mold and fruit flies in the rooms, making the conditions deplorable. 

These accounts of federal VA facilities in Florida deserve our attention, and I have no doubt there are many more like these that will aid your committee’s efforts in holding federal VA leadership accountable. My office stands ready to provide the necessary support you need to hold a field hearing in Florida, and we hope you will schedule it soon.

Rick Scott 

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A new poll shows U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., does not garner much support in his home state of Florida if he runs for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

A poll of likely voters in Florida from Rasmussen Reports, released on Thursday, shows a majority of those surveyed -- 52 percent -- think Rubio should not run for the presidency in 2016 while only 21 percent think he should. Asked if they will vote for Rubio if he becomes the Republican nominee in 2016, only 32 percent say they will back him while 48 percent say they will not.

The poll finds Rubio is above water in his current post, with 45 percent seeing him as favorable while 43 percent see him as unfavorable.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., is in better shape in the poll, with 48 percent viewing him as favorable and 36 percent seeing him in an unfavorable light.

The poll of 750 likely Florida voters was taken from April 21-22 and had a margin of error of +/- 4 percent.

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The Fuels America coalition unveiled a study on Thursday by John Dunham & Associates on how renewable fuels benefit Florida, leading to $4.4 billion, almost 20,100 jobs and $136.6 million in revenue for the state government.

The report can be read here.

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Appearing on “Your World” on Fox News on Wednesday, Gov. Rick Perry, R-Texas, weighed in on his challenge to debate Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-N.Y., and offered praise to Gov. Rick Scott, R-Fla., and other Republicans governors. Perry is in New York this week, promoting Texas’ business climate and encouraging businesses based in the Empire State to look at relocating.

“I am here to give people the opportunity to relocate or expand their business to the state of Texas,” Perry said.

Asked if he had heard much from Cuomo, Perry said no. “Well, not much from the governor’s office,” Perry answered. “Good response though from business men and women we had the opportunity to meet with.

“There’s two issues going on here; I don’t make any apologies that I am a competitive governor and I come in to California, Illinois, or any other state,” Perry added. “Just as Bobby Jindal and Rick Scott come into Texas and say hey, we’d like for you to take a look at Louisiana or take a look at Florida. Those are two really competitive governors out there and there’s a host of others that are very competitive. I mean, what Mary Fallin does, Susana Martinez, Nikki Haley -- I mean those are governors that get it about tax, regulatory, legal policies and having a skilled workforce in place and making your state be competitive. I happen to think that our Founding Fathers knew what they were talking about when they discussed that 10th Amendment and said the federal government is supposed to do a few things and do it very well, enumerate those powers, and you states work out all these other things -- which says to me, let’s compete against each other. Who’s got the best tax policy? Who’s got the best regulatory climate? Who has the best legal system for the people of your state? Then people will move and go to where they want to go. If that is the test, more people have migrated out of New York and California over the last decade than any two states to go to places where they can find some relief.”

Perry also said New York should back fracking. “Here’s what I can share with them, that it is a safe practice, that all of the science shows it is a safe practice,” Perry said. “If you care about your citizens, the southern part of New York -- I mean, it’s almost Appalachian in places. I mean the poverty that is there and the jobs that could be created are a fascinating amount of jobs.”

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Let's Get To Work, a group affiliated with Gov. Rick Scott, unveiled a new television ad on Thursday, hitting former Gov. Charlie Crist the favorite for the Democratic nomination despite spending most of his political life with the GOP. The ad starts on Saturday and Let’s Get to Work is putting $2 million behind the buy.

"When the state had record-high unemployment, skyrocketing foreclosure rates, and a loss of 832,000 jobs, Charlie Crist left to pursue his political career,” said Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. “He chose to run away when Florida needed help the most. It was up to Gov. Rick Scott to step in and clean up the mess Crist left behind."

View the ad below:

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After winning the Republican primary on Tuesday as he looks to replace former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., in Congress, businessman Curt Clawson once again challenged President Barack Obama to a three-point contest. Clawson played basketball at Purdue.

“If by any chance you catch this clip, it’s time to man up and accept the Three-Point Challenge," Clawson said. “My house or yours?”

 Clawson ran an ad during the Super Bowl touching on the challenge.

Clawson takes on Democrat April Freeman and Libertarian Ray Netherwood in the June 24 special election.

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On Thursday, Florida TaxWatch released a study which shows increased new home construction across the Sunshine State bodes well for the economy.

"Floridians are seeing evidence of economic recovery in every corner," said Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, on Thursday. "New construction demand is growing, job creation is up, and for the first time since the recession, the state has a budget surplus and is sharing large tax cuts with hard-working Floridians. These positive indicators are giving taxpayers confidence, allowing them to spend more and generating state revenues."

The study shows more than 4,600 new single home starts each month, more than double what it was back in 2009.

"Increased investment by individuals and companies helps increase Florida's growth rate, giving businesses confidence to hire more workers," said Jerry Parrish, Florida TaxWatch’s chief economist. "This is one more positive sign of the growing momentum in Florida's economy."

The study can be read here.

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After the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works Review Board refused to approve the Central Everglades Planning Project, Gov. Rick Scott has stepped in and is calling for the board to immediately reconvene and approve the project.

Prior to the vote, Scott sent the U.S. Army Corps a letter urging the board to adopt CEPP.  

“We are extremely disappointed that Corps officials in Washington refused to approve CEPP at yesterday’s meeting," said Scott. "Day-by-day the rainy season approaches, and that’s why we are asking the board to immediately reconvene to discuss and approve CEPP. Just this month, the South Florida Water Management District took historic action in approving CEPP, and yesterday the federal government added more bureaucratic hurdles in our efforts to restore water quality, and send the water south. We’ve worked closely with our federal and local partners, and we need officials in Washington to act with more urgency in adopting these projects. The federal government must make CEPP a priority. We must do everything it takes to protect the natural treasures that Florida families rely on.”

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Florida's crime rate reached a 43-year low in 2013, according to the Uniform Crime Report released Wednesday by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Gov. Rick Scott joined the FDLE to announce Florida’s crime rate dropped 4.7 percent compared to 2012. 

The total number of crimes fell 3.8 percent from last year, which translates into 27,380 fewer crimes in 2013. The number of violent crimes was also down 2.4 percent.

Murder is down 3.9 percent, forcible sex offenses and robbery each declined 2.8 percent and aggravated assault is down 2.1 percent.

“Today we have more good news for families. Even while Florida’s population grows, the total number of crimes continues to drop, which is a testament to our brave men and women who serve in our communities each and every day," said Scott. "Florida is now at a 43-year crime low. Our lower crime rate means that not only are our families and communities safer, but Florida is in a better position to create more opportunities for Floridians. This drop in crime shows everyone that Florida really is the best place to raise a family.”
“It is noteworthy that while our population continues to increase, overall crime continues to decrease,” said FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey. “My thanks to Florida’s dedicated law enforcement professionals for making this a better place to live.” 
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As he battles former Florida Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich for his party’s nomination to challenge Gov. Rick Scott in November, former Gov. Charlie Crist is launching a Spanish language website. Crist is the favorite for the Democratic nomination.

The website,, was unveiled Wednesday.

“Today, we launched with the goal of spreading Charlie's message to even more people,” Omar Khan, Crist’s campaign manager, informed supporters on Wednesday. “Almost 20 percent of Floridians speak Spanish -- I bet you know at least a few people who have been waiting to get involved until the information was available in the language they're most comfortable in.”

Scott unveiled a Spanish language website earlier in the week.  

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On Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., said he would introduce a bill next week to ensure the federal government doesn’t go after Americans whose families received overpayments from Social Security and other programs over the last 50 years. Social Security estimates more than 400,000 Americans received overpayments of around $714 million.

Buchanan is already dubbing his proposal “The Stop Punishing Innocent Taxpayers Act” which would ensure the IRS can’t collect overpayments from more than 10 years ago. Buchanan is the only Florida congressman who sits on the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee which oversees the IRS.

Pointing to reports that the IRS is going after the children of Social Security recipients who received overpayments decades ago, Buchanan said his bill was needed.

“This grotesque abuse of power is just one of the many reasons why Americans are fed up with Washington,” Buchanan said. “The federal government should not be penalizing children because the government miscalculated the federal benefits for their parents. My bill will put an end to this outrageous and unfair confiscation.”

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Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart sent an email to superintendents Wednesday addressing a server issue that plagued certain school districts on Tuesday, leaving many unable to take the FCAT.

Stewart's email read:

"The department has been working with Pearson throughout the night and this morning on the issues that affected online testing in Florida yesterday. Pearson has put into place a mitigation strategy that includes redundancy in access to its production servers."

"While the original issue that caused interruptions in service through CenturyLink has been corrected and verified as of early this morning, Pearson has engaged the services of another provider to minimize the risk of further interruptions to testing today. This solution has also been tested and verified overnight. Pearson has assured the department that this strategy will resolve the issues related to yesterday’s interruptions and the system will resume normal functionality."

"Given this, schools may resume testing this morning with the guidance provided to districts late yesterday afternoon." 
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The Army Corps of Engineers Civil Works Review Board, scheduled Tuesday to approve paying for half of the $1.9 billion Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), instead postponed completing its review -- a needed step before it can get Congress's final funding approval.

On April 10 the South Florida Water Management District had approved a resolution saying it would go 50-50 with the Army Corps on the project designed to move water from Lake Okeechobee south -- rather than to the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee River estuaries -- by using land already in public hands. More than 30 South Florida stakeholders are on board with the plan.

According to the district, the project will move about 68.5 billion gallons a year to the Everglades and ultimately, thirsty Everglades National Park. That's about 15 percent of the 456.2 billion gallons dumped into the estuaries.

"We are extremely disappointed that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not approve CEPP today, and we call upon the Corps to move quickly to reconsider this very critical piece of environmental restoration," Robert Coker, vice president of public affairs for U.S. Sugar, said in a written statement Tuesday. "Sugar farmers support CEPP and other restoration projects that also will provide benefits to Lake Okeechobee and the coastal estuaries as well as the Everglades."

SFWMD board member Jim Moran of Boyton Beach voted for the project at the April 10 meeting, but said he has "serious doubts" the federal government will keep their end of the bargain.

"If you're counting on CEPP to save the Everglades, it may not happen," Moran said, pointing out that Congress has to authorize the project and appropriate the money to pay the federal share at a time when the Corps has a backlog of $48 billion in projects because there's no money for them."

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Republicans in Southwest Florida hit the polls on Tuesday to find a replacement for former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel, R-Fla., and selected businessman Curt Clawson who prevailed over Florida Senate Majority Leader Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, former state Rep. Paige Kreegel and conservative activist Michael Dreikorn in the primary. Radel resigned earlier this year after pleading guilty to cocaine possession.

With most votes in -- all early ballots counted, 92 percent of votes cast in Collier County on Election Day and 77 percent of those cast in Lee County on Tuesday -- Clawson led with 38 percent, more than 26,000 votes. Benacquisto was in second with 26 percent, 17,673 votes. Kreegel stood in third with 25 percent, 17,324 votes. Dreikorn lagged behind with 11 percent, 7,435 votes.

Clawson will take on Democrat April Freeman and Libertarian Ray Netherwood in the special general election on June 24. The district breaks heavily for Republicans and Clawson starts off the general election as a strong favorite.

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All of a sudden Democratic gubernatorial candidate Charlie Crist has the ideal occasion and opportunity to debate his primary opponent, Nan Rich. Will he do it?

Rich said she accepted an invitation from the Florida Society of News Editors and the Florida Press Association to appear at a July 10 candidate forum co-hosted by the two organizations.

Said former state Sen. Rich, “Florida voters deserve to hear directly from the candidates, at the same time on the same stage,” Rich said. “I’m happy to present my record, my core principles, and my vision for the future. I hope Charlie Crist is as well.”

The event is the most hope Rich received yet that the former Republican might actually debate her on the issues. Crist has explicitly told reporters he has no interest in a debate with Rich, down in the polls and in fundraising, even though she's been in the race for the last two years. 

The Florida Society of News Editors has yet to decide on the format for the July event but have suggested the candidates would appear on stage together and take questions from a panel of journalists. In agreeing to participate, Rich also agreed to the format.

“Open debate is vital to democracy, and Democratic voters are entitled to hear a vigorous exchange of ideas in the primary,” Rich said. “These two credible and independent organizations are providing a venue for that exchange and I am very much looking forward to participating.”

In addition to accepting the debate invitation from the press associations, Rich repeated her call for a series of primary debates around the state.

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The Republican Party of Florida is going after former Gov. Charlie Crist over changing his mind on offering in-state tuition rates for the children of undocumented immigrants. 

In 2006, Crist praised state lawmakers for rejecting a bill to offer in-state tuition rates to all Florida students. Now, running as a Democrat, Crist has switched his position on the issue and now supports legislation offering in-state tuition rates for Dreamers.

Crist appeared at the Tallahassee Tiger Bay Club Wednesday and called on state lawmakers to pass the immigrant in-state tuition bill.

“Charlie’s extraordinary lack of self-awareness is something for the record books," said RPOF Chairman Lenny Curry. "He has a world-class knack for distorting the truth, running away from his record and saying whatever is convenient for his own personal benefit. He opposed in-state tuition while he was running for governor.”
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On Tuesday, U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., announced he was backing a challenge from U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Fla., against the Office of Personnel Management exempting members of Congress from being included in President Barack Obama’s federal health-care law.

"Members of Congress lack credibility in standing up against executive overreach if we are not willing to do so when the overreach benefits Congress,” DeSantis said on Tuesday. "Members of Congress should live under the exact terms of the laws that they pass. Overruling the plain meaning of the law to grant special relief to members of Congress puts the ruling class before the American people."
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Stetson Law School once again led Florida law schools with the highest percentage of its graduates passing the February bar exam.

According to a report from the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, Stetson Law grads boasted the highest passage rate at 85 percent.

Florida State University College of Law trailed behind Stetson, with 82 percent of its grads passing the exam. Florida International University College of Law had 81.3 percent of its grads pass the February exam.

The Florida Bar Exam is administered twice a year. The February Bar exam had significantly fewer test takers than the July 2013 exam, with only 805 law grads sitting for the exam compared to over 3,000 who took the test in July.
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Having launched a TV ad in Spanish earlier this week, Gov. Rick Scott’s team has unveiled a website in Spanish.

The website,, went live Tuesday.

“We are making an historic effort to reach all communities and share Gov. Scott’s message of economic growth and opportunity for all Floridians,” said Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera. “Gov. Scott is working hard to make sure that Florida will continue to be the best state in the country to find a good job, educate our children, and give our families every opportunity to succeed.”

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FCAT testing is under way for many students in the Sunshine State, but a number of schools are reporting problems with the computers used for the test.

According to various reports, several school districts had problems with the computer systems, canceling testing altogether.

According to MyFox Tampa Bay, Pasco County is recommending its schools pause FCAT testing because administrators are having trouble signing onto the FCAT system.

Pearson, the company proctoring the test, is apparently having site issues.

Several students took to Twitter to talk about the testing problems. Some said they shouldn't be taking tests on computers while others say they waited in their classrooms for nearly three hours doing nothing while they waited for the issue to be resolved.

The problems do not appear to be statewide.
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Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral, was arrested Monday morning for driving under the influence, according to the Tallahassee Police Department. 

According to the probable cause affidavit, Eagle was pulled over around 1:50 a.m. after driving south across the westbound lanes of Tennessee St. The affidavit says Eagle struck a raised median while turning left and then turned back.

Eagle stopped at a red light. When the light turned green, he made a U-turn and almost struck a curb near a Papa John's Pizza restaurant. The vehicle then began to travel at 45 mph in the 35 mph zone, veered to the right and struck the raised curb. 

The affidavit says the vehicle approached the intersection of Dewey St. and W. Tennessee St. and went through a red light.

Eagle was pulled over and struck the concrete curb.

"I approached the vehicle to make contact with the driver and only occupant of the vehicle," read the report. "Before I made contact with the driver, I could smell the strong odor of alcoholic beverage coming from the passenger compartment. I explained the reason for the stop and asked the defendant about running the right light. He originally stated he thought the light was yellow.

When the defendant spoke, I could smell the strong odor of alcoholic beverage coming from his breath. The defendant's eyes were bloodshot, watery, and glassy."

The report states Eagle denied consuming any alcoholic beverages. When asked to perform Field Sobriety Exercises, the report says Eagle refused. He was then arrested and refused to provide a breath sample.
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On Tuesday, the James Madison Institute (JMI) released a study entitled “Florida Retirement System Reform: Why Now?”which argues that the current pension reforms in the Legislature are needed.

“The time to look at reform is not after the system is broken, but before it runs into problems. We’ve heard that many times, but that’s because it’s just good common sense,” said Dr. Bob McClure, the president and CEO of JMI. “We trust that the Florida Legislature will heavily consider problems that have plagued other pension plans and be proactive to design a system today that will not run into those same problems in the future.”

The study argues moving the Florida Retirement System in line with best practices from the private sector, including relying on defined contributions, will ensure the system’s stability.

“Many private companies offer federally-insured defined contribution pension plans. There is no reason for the FRS to manage those accounts,” said Dr. Randall Holcombe, a senior fellow at JMI and economics professor at Florida State University and the author of the study. “Workers could choose the firm that would manage their pensions, and typically, such plans offer workers a variety of investment alternatives for their pension plans. This would put both Florida and the state’s public employees in a better position without the current risk of compounding unfunded liabilities that take funding away from important public services.”

The study can be read here.

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Former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kansas, is not a fan of some of the leading Republican presidential possibilities in 2016. The Huffington Post is reporting that Dole thinks the likes of U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who Dole called that “extreme-right-wing guy," don’t have enough experience to go toe-to-toe with former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Of course, Dole spent decades in the Senate, running for the Republican presidential nomination in 1980 and 1988 before finally winning it, and coming up short against President Bill Clinton, back in 1996.
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Former Gov. Gary Johnson of New Mexico, who was the Libertarian Party’s presidential nominee in 2012, is looking ahead to 2016, calling for more inclusion for third party candidates in presidential campaigns, including being included in the debates.

“The most powerful weapon the two ‘major’ parties use to exclude other candidates from serious consideration is their Commission on Presidential Debates,” Johnson insisted on Monday. “Yes, that ‘Commission,’ regardless of its official-sounding name, is theirs.  It was created in 1987 by the Republican and Democrat national parties, and is a private organization funded by special interests and run by a board of -- you guessed it -- Republicans and Democrats.  There is nothing nonpartisan about it, and they have made no secret of their desire to keep anyone other than their own two nominees off the debate stage.”

Johnson and his Our American Initiative are “mounting an aggressive campaign to break up the Republican-Democrat control of the nationally-televised presidential debates” including releasing a new video.

Sorry, you need to install flash to see this content.

“Our effort is two-fold,” Johnson explained. “First, we are challenging the Commission on Presidential Debates in court, and second, we plan to inform and mobilize people from all over the country to let debate sponsors, the news media and others know that allowing the two ‘major’ parties to control the all-important debates is simply not fair -- and not acceptable.”
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With an overwhelming 15-3 vote Monday, the House Judiciary Committee kept the CBD medical marijuana ball rolling -- despite the "no" vote of Chairman Dennis Baxley, R-Ocala.

Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, began the discussion of CS/HB 843 by successfully adding an eleventh-hour "friendly amendment" to the bill that would make it a criminal misdemeanor for any doctor or patient to misrepresent the patient's condition.

Bill sponsor Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, who repeatedly called CS/HB 843 "a cautious walk forward" -- with co-sponsor Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, Rep. Dave Hood, R-Daytona Beach, a brain cancer patient, and Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Sebring, a medical doctor in favor -- largely answered committee members' questions and satisfied concerns.

Baxley said he fears the bill will open the floodgates and make Florida "a stoner state." But he also said there's a chance he could change his mind by the time the bill gets to the House floor.

Next stop for the bill is Rules.

Watch Sunshine State News for commentary on this issue Tuesday morning. 

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The Coalition for Medicare Choices, which represents more than 121,000 Floridians, honored more than 20 members of Florida’s congressional delegation for opposing President Barack Obama’s call to take funds from Medicare Advantage to fund his health-care law.

“I appreciate our Florida representatives in Washington who stood up for the Medicare Advantage program and urge them to continue the fight to protect Medicare Advantage in the future,” said Austin Curry, an Orlando resident who is active with the group, on Monday. “There is no dollar sign to put on the intangibles of this program. Florida’s seniors cannot tolerate any more cuts.”

The coalition praised Florida’s two senators -- Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio -- for opposing  Obama’s proposal. The group also highlighted Florida Republican congressmen Gus Bilirakis, Vern Buchanan, Ander Crenshaw, Ron DeSantis, Mario Diaz-Balart, Ron DeSantis, John Mica, Jeff Miller, Rich Nugent, Bill Posey, Tom Rooney, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Dennis Ross, Steve Southerland, Dan Webster and Ted Yoho. The group also praised Florida Democrats Corrine Brown, Lois Frankel, Joe Garcia, Alan Grayson, Patrick Murphy and Frederica Wilson.
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U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Fla., offered his thoughts on public funding for All Aboard Florida (AAF) on Friday. While Posey said he did not back federal funding of All Aboard Florida, he said the U.S. Department of Transportation was ready to give them the green light and did not need additional congressional authorization.

"While the decision to authorize All Aboard Florida lies with state and local elected government officials, if the loan funding question comes before the Congress for a vote, I will oppose it,” Posey said. “However, the U.S. Department of Transportation currently has all the authority and funding they need to approve the loan with no congressional input or approvals.”

Posey insisted he has long opposed public funding of rail projects.

"In September 2013, I was asked to join other members of the Florida congressional delegation in sending a bipartisan letter to the U.S. Department of Transportation supporting AAF’s direct loan application,” Posey said. “I did not sign onto the bipartisan letter of support. While I appreciate rail systems, which improve infrastructure and economically transport goods, I have long opposed taxpayer subsidies including those for Amtrak, SunRail and the South Florida commuter rail.

"I believe that the most important thing for the Federal Railway Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation to do as they consider this issue is to give the greatest weight to the concerns of the local affected communities,” Posey continued. “Toward this end, when I have received letters and resolutions from locally elected leaders in communities that will be directly impacted by AAF, I have forwarded those concerns directly to the federal officials and asked them to give serious attention to the issues these community leaders have raised.”

Posey insisted the federal role on AAF was minimal with the state taking the lead role.

 "It is my understanding that All Aboard Florida has already been granted authority to proceed with this project by the state of Florida and relevant state government bodies. They need no federal action or approvals to proceed; what they are seeking from the federal government is a direct loan,” Posey continued. "Of the 235-mile rail line, 195 miles is currently in use by AAF’s parent company, Florida East Coast Industries. AAF has received approval from state of Florida regulated entities to enable it to construct a rail line from the Orlando airport to the existing FEC rail track running along the east coast of Florida.

"In October 2013, the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority (OOCEA) board, a state-regulated entity, approved an easement purchase agreement with AAF to allow the construction of a rail line that will run parallel to State Road 528 (Beach Line). The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority approved agreements granting AAF the ability to connect and build a terminal at the airport," Posey said. "When I was first made aware of this project it was my understanding that all funding would be private. I later learned that they would be applying to the U.S. Department of Transportation for a direct loan under the U.S. Department of Transportation's Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing Program (RRIF). Since 2009, the RRIF has provided nearly $1.7 billion in direct lending to more than 33 railway projects around the country. The largest borrower to date has been Amtrak. This is a direct loan program under which the U.S. Department of Transportation is able to loan 100 percent of the project costs. The general terms of the loan are that the borrower pays interest at the U.S. Treasury rate plus a credit risk premium, and the loan must be fully collateralized. The loan must be paid back over 35 years.

"There is no direct appropriation from the U.S. Congress for the RRIF program, but existing law has granted the U.S. Department of Transportation the authority to make up to $35 billion in RRIF loans,” Posey said in conclusion. “Loan approvals do not come before the U.S. Congress for consideration, but are evaluated and approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation.I believe it is important for those of you who have concerns about the proposed AAF to contact your state and local elected officials and let them know of your interest in this issue as they have considerably more authority over these state regulatory issues."

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On Monday, Gov. Rick Scott announced the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity has received a $2.1 million supplemental National Emergency Grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to provide training and other re-employment services to approximately 94 oystermen to prepare for careers in other industries.

Workers eligible for these services must have participated in the temporary jobs component of this emergency grant, which was provided in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Debby in June 2012. 

The $2.1 million grant is separate from the funding previously received through FEMA's Public Assistance Program as well as the $6.3 million in projects Gov. Scott announced in March that will be provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

"We will continue training workers and expanding the Apalachicola Bay economy with these funds," said Scott. "With this $2.1 million investment we will work to get this community back on its feet. We’re working tirelessly to support the natural treasures families in the area rely on.”  

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Florida will mark Taypayer Independence Day on Tuesday according to Florida TaxWatch. This means every cent Florida workers earned until Tuesday, on average, goes to pay taxes.  

"This symbolic day puts taxpayers' responsibility in perspective, showing us how much of a presence government, at different levels, has in our lives." said Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch. "It has taken Florida taxpayers 111 days, or more than three and a half months, to finally stop paying off their 2014 tax burden."   

Last year, Taxpayer Independence Day was celebrated in Florida on April 18. Florida TaxWatch insisted the later date is the result of higher federal taxes which account for more than 70 percent of taxes Floridians pay.

Calabro tried to look on the bright side on Monday.

"Floridians can use Taxpayer Independence Day to evaluate the cost of government, and ensure that our citizen responsibility to support our government is appropriately weighted against protecting our own personal and economic freedom," said Calabro.
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