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The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Lawmakers seek to crack down on gas pump 'skimmers'

With the simple swipe of a credit card at a gas station pump, it’s become easier for identity thieves to steal customers’ information and rack up fraudulent charges in their names.

State Sen. Anitere Flores’ family knows this all too well; a close family member’s credit card information was stolen from a gas station “skimmer” two years ago in Miami, she said.

“Within hours, hundreds and hundreds of dollars worth of charges — specifically gas station charges — were put on the card,” said Flores, R-Miami. “It was scary, but it was also a major inconvenience: canceling credit cards and changing account numbers. You shouldn’t have to go through all that just because you’re using the convenience of paying at the pump.”

With support from Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Flores and Rep. Dana Young, R-Tampa, want to crack down on the use of skimmers by requiring gas stations to have better security measures and by increasing the penalties for criminals convicted of credit card fraud.

Skimmers are devices that illegally capture and steal credit- and debit-card information. State inspectors in Putnam’s department have located and removed 161 skimmers statewide since March alone. …

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Talks continue over how to limit — but still expand — gambling in Florida

The deadline has passed for the Seminole Tribe to complete its negotiations with the state over whether it will be allowed to continue operating lucrative blackjack games at its Hard Rock casinos, but the cards are still on the table.

The stakes are so high for all the parties involved in Florida's complicated gaming landscape that legislators and the governor's office are trying to negotiate a way to turn a deal on the card games into a blueprint for gaming across the state by the onset of the legislative session on Jan. 12.

Among the issues: the prospect of another slots casino in Miami, slot machines in Palm Beach and Fort Myers, a requirement that future gambling licenses get statewide voter approval, and the promise of $3 billion in gaming proceeds directed into the state treasury over the next seven years.

"We're still talking, still hashing," said Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, the Senate's lead negotiator who, along with the House's negotiator, Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami, has been meeting with the governor's general counsel, Tim Cerio, and lawyers for the Seminole Tribe. …

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Marco Rubio: 'We are most definitely at war with ISIS'

Sen. Marco Rubio and his wife, Jeanette, were interviewed by TODAY's Natalie Morales this week in South Carolina and it aired this morning during the Thanksgiving telecast. Together they talked about how their kids are supportive of dad's presidential run, but also tough critics. One on one with Morales, Rubio talked about the war with ISIS and the refugee crisis.

"We are most definitely at war with ISIS," Rubio said, "and I'd be supportive of declaring that, whether it's formally thorugh Congress or rhetorically."

Watch it here.

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Marco Rubio, other GOP candidates show how they would pardon a turkey

Sen. Marco Rubio shows how he would pardon a turkey.

YouTube screengrab

Sen. Marco Rubio shows how he would pardon a turkey.

A presidential tradition this time of year is the pardoning of a turkey. 

President Barack Obama actually pardoned two on Wednesday. Their names are Honest and Abe.

Not to be outdone, three of the Republican presidential candidates showed their poultry pardoning techniques in a comic video on the news website IJReview. 

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio says in the video, "And so if I am president this is the turkey that I would pick. Otherwise well behaved... really has not done anything that would cause us to frown upon her."

Later he tells the turkey, "I hope you won't grow upset at me, but we roast one in the normal way, and the others, we fry them."

He then offers a bit of advice: Never fry a frozen turkey. It doesn't end well.

Also in the video are Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson. 

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Florida newspapers weigh in on Gov. Rick Scott's proposed budget

Newspapers across the state are weighing in with editorials on Gov. Rick Scott's $79.3 billion proposed budget for Florida's upcoming fiscal year.

Not all of it in a favorable way.

Among the reactions: an editorial in the Tampa Bay Times says Scott's spending plan "is aimed at generating headlines to use in his next campaign rather than investing in a state government facing systemic failure in nearly every corner."

A Sun-Sentinel editorial questions both Scott's priorities and his math, concluding, "His numbers don't add up."



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Rate of kids coming into foster care rising in Florida

From the News Service of Florida:

TALLAHASSEE - More children are coming into Florida's foster-care system after a sweeping child-welfare reform law went into effect 19 months ago, but officials say the state is trying to focus on what's best for kids in difficult situations.

"You write laws to respond to the issues of the day, and those change at least annually," said state Sen. Nancy Detert, a Venice Republican and sponsor of a number of foster-care reforms. "So our focus in today's world is the best interests of the child in every way - safety, quality of life, the best location - and that's all we can do."

Last month, according to the state Department of Children and Families, there were 22,635 children in what's known as out-of-home care - or 5.53 per 1,000 children in the general population. In June 2014, the month before the law took effect, there were 19,299 kids in foster care, or 4.76 per 1,000.

The 2014 law was nearly a year in the making, during which media reports on the deaths of youngsters already "known" to the Department of Children and Families roiled the public and galvanized lawmakers to plug what they saw as holes in the child-welfare system.

Read more here

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Gov. Rick Scott wants lawmakers to fund bear-proofing measures

From our friends at the News Service of Florida:

TALLAHASSEE - The state would set aside $230,000 for bear-resistant trash cans and outreach programs to reduce conflicts between humans and bears, as part of Gov. Rick Scott's proposed $79.3 billion budget.

The money would be used to partner with residents, local governments and businesses as a way to prevent bear attacks, according to a press release that accompanied Scott's budget on Monday. The funding request will be considered during the 2016 legislative session that begins in January.

Center for Biological Diversity Florida Director Jaclyn Lopez said in an email on Tuesday that Scott's proposal "sounds like a great start."

Lopez's organization was among the animal-protection and environmental groups that supported a lawsuit seeking to stop last month's state-sponsored bear hunt. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission approved the hunt, the first of its kind, with the goal of reducing the state's bear population by 10 percent.

Scott's proposed spending alone won't fix Florida's bear problem, Lopez said.

Read more here


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Grayson, Murphy are thankful for... your campaign donations

Not even national holidays are immune from being politicized.

In the run-up to Thanksgiving, the two leading candidates battling for the Democratic primary in Florida's U.S. Senate race -- U.S. Reps. Alan Grayson of Orlando and Patrick Murphy of Jupiter -- have both sent out fundraising emails to their supporters asking for donations of "$3 or more" because of the holiday.

Grayson's email on Tuesday, suiting his fiery, sometimes-combative personality, offers supporters the chance to "win a call from me to your most conservative relative on Thanksgiving."

"You know that Republican in your family who always tries to get into a political debate with you over Thanksgiving dinner? This year, they can argue with me instead," Grayson writes.

Meanwhile, this morning, Murphy's finance director released a fundraising pitch for Murphy -- intentionally or not, countering Grayson -- and pledging that "Thursday is off-limits" and that he has a "strict no-politics-on-Thanksgiving policy."

So instead, Murphy's campaign is asking his supporters to donate the day before -- so as not to infringe on the sanctity of the holiday, of course.

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Rubio-Cruz battle escalates

The battle between Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz continues with an ad from a political nonprofit attacking the Texan as soft on terrorism.

Cruz hit back on Fox News last night, accusing Rubio and his allies of trying to shift attention from Rubio’s immigration work.

The ad comes from American Encore, a group that does not have to disclose donors. Politico reported that founder Sean Noble is backing Rubio and co-hosted a fundraiser for Rubio in Arizona last week.

Noble asserts his group isn’t pro-Rubio. Yet the Florida Republican first opened up the attack on Cruz for voting to curb the NSA’s data collection. That came after Cruz went after Rubio on immigration.

A new poll shows Cruz surging to a near tie with Donald Trump in Iowa. Coincidentally, the anti-Cruz ad is playing in Iowa.

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Hillary Clinton to hold rally in Orlando

Hillary Clinton will hold a grassroots event Dec. 2 in Orlando, her campaign said.

“During the event, Clinton will discuss the issues that keep Floridians up at night and how she’ll address them as president. Clinton has previously campaigned in Ft. Lauderdale, Davie, and Miami.”

The location of the 1 p.m. event has not yet been named.

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Bill Nelson says Syrian refugees already face strict vetting; real problem with visa waivers

Sen. Bill Nelson opposes legislation approved by the House last week to make it harder for Syrian refugees to enter the U.S., saying a rigorous screening process is already in place.

Besides, the Florida Democrat said, the concern is with people who could arrive on a visa waiver agreement the U.S. has with 37 countries.

“This is making political points,” Nelson said of the House bill, which is expected to come up in the Senate after the Thanksgiving break. Nelson predicted it may not get the 60 votes to clear a procedural hurdle.

The current refugee vetting process already takes about two years. But the House bill would add more layers that Nelson in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times called “unreasonable.”

“Every single Syrian refugee would have to be signed off by three people: the director of national intelligence, the secretary of homeland security and the director of the FBI,” Nelson said.

Last week, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies (SAFE) Act passed by a 289-137 vote and 47 Democrats joined in support, including Florida Reps. Patrick Murphy and Gwen Graham. …

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GOP legislator files bill to open solar market to competition in Florida

Solar 111315State Rep. Fred Costello is having his Ormond Beach home fitted with solar panels. He has invested in a company that is seeking a patent on new energy generation technology. He considers himself an energy wonk.

So when the former mayor filed a bill last week to open the state’s energy market to solar energy competition — by allowing homeowners and businesses to lease their rooftops to companies that generate solar power and sell it back to the grid — it seemed like the logical thing for a free-market Republican to pursue.

“I believe in innovation and competition because that’s how we get better,” said Costello, a dentist by trade. The current system imposes hurdles to competition and hurdles to innovation, he said. “That’s not what the free market is all about.”

But Costello’s idea is disruptive, and uncharacteristic for Republicans in recent years. …

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Miami mayor endorses Scott's $250M proposed reform for Enterprise Florida

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado

Hector Gabino / El Nuevo Herald

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado

Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado is among the latest in a string of local and county officials across Florida who have signed a fill-in-the-blank press release from Gov. Rick Scott's office, backing his plan for $250 million in economic incentives to better attract jobs and businesses to Florida.

Scott sent letters to all Florida mayors earlier this month -- and later, also local and county council and commission members -- asking them to support his proposal to reform Enterprise Florida with the new "Florida Enterprise Fund."

Scott's plan is expected to face some resistance among his fellow Republicans in the Senate. The $250 million request triples the $85 million he requested this year for Enterprise Florida -- which lawmakers sliced in half in the current budget.

In announcing his support of Scott's plan, Regalado cited Enterprise Florida's role in "creating jobs in our community, such as HBO Latin America, LAN Airlines and Univision Network."

"These reforms will continue to diversify our local economy, empower our small businesses and create even more great jobs," Regalado said, reciting a canned quote provided by Scott's office.

Regalado, like Scott, is a Republican. …

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Donald Trump expands Florida campaign team with four new staffers

Just days before he brings his presidential campaign to Sarasota, Donald Trump beefed up his Florida team with four new hires.

Trump is slated to hold a rally at the Sarasota Fairgrounds on Saturday.

Here's the full news release today from Team Trump:

Donald J. Trump today announced the addition of four staff members joining his operation in Florida as he continues to lead all state polls by wide, double-digit margins. Jennifer R. Locetta will serve as Deputy State Director, Ken Mayo has been named Director of Field Operations, John Ross Pughe is joining as the Southeast Regional Field Director, and Craig Bachler will serve as Director of Coalitions.

Mr. Trump stated, "I have created thousands of jobs and own some of the most iconic assets in the state. I love the people of Florida and I am proud to have such overwhelming support and a great staff in place. I look forward to visiting often and working with my team to share my vision to Make America Great Again." …

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Sen. Bill Nelson calls for CENTCOM firings if manipulated intelligence reports are true

Sen. Bill Nelson says people should be fired at CENTCOM if a report is true about the manipulation of intelligence regarding the fight against the Islamic State.

"If the Inspector General finds out that the New York Times report is true, then people ought to be fired. Immediately," the Florida Democrat told the Tampa Bay Times in an interview Tuesday.

Nelson said he relayed those concerns in a letter to Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

Still, Nelson said there has been progress in the fight against the Islamic State. "The U.S. role should continue with allies in the air. But the Arabs are going to have to own this and coalesce and that's not going to happen until you can get a political settlement on the ground. At the moment, that looks very difficult."


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