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Associated Press

Officials: Inmates confined after ‘disturbance’ at NW Fla. prison

Corrections officials say inmates involved in a “disturbance” at a state prison in Florida’s Panhandle were confined before the holiday weekend.

The News Herald quotes Florida Department of Corrections reports as saying “there was a disturbance involving a number of inmates” Friday morning in the dining hall at the Northwest Florida Reception Center.

Corrections spokeswoman Michelle Glady told the newspaper that one employee at the Chipley prison was assaulted and suffered minor injuries.

Glady said no inmates were injured.

No additional details about the disturbance were released. According to the newspaper, corrections officials said inmates involved in the incident were placed in confinement pending disciplinary review.

Glady said the incident was resolved “due to the quick response of the institution response team.”

GOP: Cut taxes, change brackets; but what about deficits

Congressional Republicans are planning a massive overhaul of the nation’s tax system, a heavy political lift that could ultimately affect families at every income level and businesses of every size.

Their goal is to simplify a complicated tax code that rewards wealthy people with smart accountants, and corporations that can easily shift profits — and jobs — overseas. It won’t be easy. The last time it was done was 30 years ago.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have vowed to pass a tax package in 2017 that would not add to the budget deficit. The Washington term is “revenue neutral.”

It means that for every tax cut there has to be a tax increase, creating winners and losers. Lawmakers would get some leeway if non-partisan congressional analysts project that a tax cut would increase economic growth, raising revenue without increasing taxes.

Nevertheless, passing a massive tax package will require some tough votes, politically.

Some key Republican senators want to share the political risk with Democrats. They argue that a tax overhaul must be bipartisan to be fully embraced by the public. They cite President Barack Obama‘s health law — which passed in 2010 without any Republican votes — as a major policy initiative that remains divisive.

Congressional Democrats say they are eager to have a say in overhauling the tax code. But McConnell, who faulted Democrats for acting unilaterally on health care, is laying the groundwork to pass a purely partisan bill.

Both McConnell and Ryan said they plan to use a legislative maneuver that would prevent Senate Democrats from using the filibuster to block a tax bill.

McConnell says he wants the Senate to tackle a tax plan in the spring, after Congress repeals Obama’s health law. House Republicans are more eager to get started, but haven’t set a timeline.

Some things to know about Republican efforts to overhaul the tax code:

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THE HOUSE PLAN

House Republicans have released the outline of a tax plan that would lower the top individual income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 33 percent, and reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three. The gist of the plan is to lower tax rates for just about everyone, and make up the lost revenue by scaling back exemptions, deductions and credits.

The plan, however, retains some of the most popular tax breaks, including those for paying a mortgage, going to college, making charitable contributions and having children.

The standard deduction would be increased, giving taxpayers less incentive to itemize their deductions.

The non-partisan Tax Policy Center says the plan would reduce revenues by $3 trillion over the first decade, with most of the savings going to the highest-income households.

That’s not revenue neutral.

Small business owners would get a special top tax rate of 25 percent.

Investment income would be taxed like wages, but investors would only have to pay taxes on half of this income.

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SENATE PLAN

Senate Republicans have yet to coalesce around a comprehensive plan, or even an outline.

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TRUMP’S PLAN

Trump’s plan has fewer details. He promises a tax cut for every income level, with more low-income families paying no income tax at all.

The Tax Policy Center says Trump’s plan would reduce revenues by a whopping $9.5 trillion over the first decade, with most of the tax benefits going to the wealthiest taxpayers. Trump has disputed the analysis.

Like the House plan, Trump would reduce the top income tax rate for individuals to 33 percent, and he would reduce the number of tax brackets to three. He would also increase the standard deduction.

Trump has embraced two ideas championed by Obama but repeatedly rejected by Republicans over the past eight years. Trump’s plan would cap itemized deductions for married couples making more than $200,000 a year. It would also tax carried interest, which are fees charged by investment fund managers, as regular income instead of capital gains.

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CORPORATE TAXES

The top corporate income tax rate in the U.S. is 35 percent, the highest in the industrialized world. However, the tax is riddled with so many exemptions, deductions and credits that most corporations pay much less.

Both Trump and House Republicans want to lower the rate, and pay for it by scaling back tax breaks.

Trump wants to lower the corporate tax rate to 15 percent. Ryan says 20 percent is more realistic, to avoid increasing the budget deficit.

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BORDER ADJUSTMENT TAX

This is one of the most controversial parts of the House Republicans’ tax plan. It is also key to making it work.

Under current law, the United States taxes the profits of U.S.-based companies, even if the money is made overseas. However, taxes on foreign income are deferred until a company either reinvests the profits in the U.S. or distributes them to shareholders.

Critics say the system encourages U.S.-based corporations to invest profits overseas or, more dramatically, to shift operations and jobs abroad to avoid U.S. taxes.

House Republicans want to scrap America’s worldwide tax system and replace it with a tax that is based on where a firm’s products are consumed, rather than where they are produced.

Under the system, American companies that produce and sell their products in the U.S. would pay the new 20 percent corporate tax rate on profits from these sales. However, if a company exports a product abroad, the profits from that sale would not be taxed by the U.S.

There’s more: Foreign companies that import goods to the U.S. would have to pay the tax, increasing the cost of imports.

Exporters love the idea. But importers, including big retailers and consumer electronics firms, say it could lead to steep price increases on consumer goods. The lobbying has already begun.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Donald Trump repeating some behaviors he criticized in Clinton

Donald Trump spent the past two years attacking rival Hillary Clinton as crooked, corrupt, and weak.

But some of those attacks seem to have already slipped into the history books.

From installing Wall Street executives in his Cabinet to avoiding news conferences, the president-elect is adopting some of the same behavior for which he criticized Clinton during their fiery presidential campaign.

Here’s a look at what Trump said then — and what he’s doing now:

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GOLDMAN SACHS

Then: “I know the guys at Goldman Sachs,” Trump said at a South Carolina rally in February, when he was locked in a fierce primary battle with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. “They have total, total control over him. Just like they have total control over Hillary Clinton.”

Now: A number of former employees of the Wall Street bank will pay a key role in crafting Trump’s economic policy. He’s tapped Goldman Sachs president Gary Cohn to lead the White House National Economic Council. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary nominee, spent 17 years working at Goldman Sachs and Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor, started his career as an investment banker at the firm.

Trump is following in a long political tradition, though one he derided on the campaign trail: If Cohn accepts the nomination, he’ll be the third Goldman executive to run the NEC.

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BIG DONORS

Then: “Crooked Hillary. Look, can you imagine another four years of the Clintons? Seriously. It’s time to move on. And she’s totally controlled by Wall Street and all these people that gave her millions,” Trump said at a May rally in Lynden, Washington.

Now: Trump has stocked his Cabinet with six top donors — far more than any recent White House. “I want people that made a fortune. Because now they’re negotiating with you, OK?” Trump said, in a December 9 speech in Des Moines.

The biggest giver? Linda McMahon, incoming small business administrator, gave $7.5 million to a super PAC backing Trump, more than a third of the money collected by the political action committee.

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NEWS CONFERENCES

Then: “She doesn’t do news conferences, because she can’t,” Trump said at an August rally in Ashburn, Virginia. “She’s so dishonest she doesn’t want people peppering her with questions.”

Now: Trump opened his last news conference on July 27, saying: “You know, I put myself through your news conferences often, not that it’s fun.”

He hasn’t held one since.

Trump skipped the news conference a president-elect typically gives after winning the White House. Instead, he released a YouTube video of under three minutes. He also recently abruptly canceled plans to hold his first post-election news conference, opting instead to describe his plans for managing his businesses in tweets. “I will hold a press conference in the near future to discuss the business, Cabinet picks and all other topics of interest. Busy times!” he tweeted in mid-December.

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FAMILY TIES:

Then: “It is impossible to figure out where the Clinton Foundation ends and the State Department begins. It is now abundantly clear that the Clintons set up a business to profit from public office. They sold access and specific actions by and really for I guess the making of large amounts of money,” Trump said at an August rally in Austin.

Now: While Trump has promised to separate himself from his businesses, there is plenty of overlap between his enterprises and his immediate family. His companies will be run by his sons, Donald Jr and Eric. And his daughter, Ivanka, and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, have joined Trump at a number of meetings with world leaders of countries where the family has financial interests.

In a financial disclosure he was required to file during the campaign, Trump listed stakes in about 500 companies in at least 25 countries.

Ivanka, in particular, has been caught making early efforts to leverage her father’s new position into profits. After an interview with the family appeared on “60 Minutes,” her jewelry company, Ivanka Trump Fine Jewelry, blasted out an email promoting the $10,800 gold bangle bracelet that she had worn during the appearance. The company later said they were “proactively discussing new policies and procedures.”

Ivanka is also auctioning off a private coffee meeting with her to benefit her brother’s foundation. The meeting is valued at $50,000, with the current top bid coming in at $25,000.

“United States Secret Service will be Present for the Duration of the Experience,” warns the auction site.

Trump on Saturday said he would dissolve his charitable foundation amid efforts to eliminate any conflicts of interest before he takes office next month.

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CLINTON INVESTIGATIONS

Then: “If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your situation, because there has never been so many lies, so much deception. There has never been anything like it, and we’re going to have a special prosecutor,” Trump said in the October presidential debate, referring to Clinton.

Now: Since winning office, Trump has said he has no intention of pushing for an investigation into Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state or the workings of her family foundation. “It’s just not something that I feel very strongly about,” he told the New York Times.

“She went through a lot. And suffered greatly in many different ways,” he said. “I’m not looking to hurt them.”

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

Florida researchers will lead new Zika research program

The University of Florida will lead a new research program focused on stopping diseases such as Zika from becoming widespread in the U.S.

University officials announced Thursday that the Southeast Regional Center of Excellence in Vector-Borne Disease’s Gateway Program was funded by a $10 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The grant is part of nearly $184 million in Zika funding the CDC is awarding to universities and state and local governments.

University of Florida infectious disease expert Rhoel Dinglasan will lead the program. Researchers from the University of Miami, Florida International University and the University of South Florida also will participate.

Report says Florida’s voting ban disenfranchise 1.6 million

A new report says no state disenfranchises more of its citizens than Florida, due to its voting ban for people with past felony convictions.

The report released last week by the Brennan Center for Justice says 1.6 million people have lost their right to vote in Florida.

The report also says one-fifth of African-American adults in Florida have lost their right to vote.

Floridians with felonies on their record can only get their voting rights restored, after waiting five to seven years, by submitting an application to the governor’s office.

The governor and Cabinet then decide whether to approve the application on a case by case basis.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Home sales surge again in Tampa Bay as prices still climb

Tampa Bay home sales showed huge year over year gains in November while prices in Pinellas, Pasco and Hernando counties also jumped dramatically.

The November figures are a sign that Tampa Bay’s housing market remains strong even as rising interest rates threaten to put a chill on sales nationwide.

“This has been so busy, this has been our record year in business,” Sarah Howe, an agent with Coastal Properties Group International in Pinellas, said Dec. 21.

In November, Hillsborough recorded nearly 29 percent more closed sales of single-family homes than in the same month a year earlier. That was followed by Pinellas, up 26.4 percent, Hernando up 19 percent and Pasco up 5 percent.

Pasco had the most impressive price gain, however, with the median cost of a single family home soaring nearly 24 percent to $185,000. Pinellas prices rose almost 20 percent to $219,000, with Hernando showing a 17 percent gain to $140,500 and Hillsborough climbing 7 percent to $224,900.

Tampa Bay’s rising prices, though, may be scaring away one critical group of buyers — millennials. A new study found that buyers under 35 are eying cities in the American heartland like Minneapolis and St. Louis where prices are more affordable.

Florida and California had the least popular cities for that new generation of homeowners, according to Ellie Mae, a software company that processes almost a quarter of all U.S. mortgage applications. Just 30 percent of millennials preferred the Tampa Bay area compared to 44 percent who saw Minneapolis as a potential home

“As housing prices continue to rebound, millennials are increasingly representing a higher percentage of homeowners in the middle of the country, where they can get more home for their money,” said Joe Tyrrell, an executive vice president at Ellie Mae.

Like other buyers in the Tampa Bay area, millennials also face a limited selection of homes to choose from. In November, Pasco and Hillsborough both had less than a three-month inventory while Pinellas was right at the three-month mark.

Hillsborough recorded November’s top home sale, a new 6,600-square foot custom home in Tampa’s Sunset Park area that went for $3.88 million. The six-bedroom, six-bath house has a 75-foot lap pool and partial views of Tampa Bay.

In Pinellas, the priciest transaction was $2.8 million for a 6,300-square foot bayfront home on Snell Isle’s Brightwaters Boulevard. Built in 1995, it is one of several homes on Brightwaters that have recently sold as demand for luxury property near downtown St. Petersburg remains strong.

“St. Pete is becoming more and more on the radar for out-of-town buyers,” said Howe, the listing agent. “It’s just a neat place to live and prices are still pretty reasonable compared to other parts of the country where (homes) on the water are so much higher.”

Pasco’s top price in November was $810,000 for a nearly 6,000 square foot house on a golf course in the Champions Club area of Trinity. And in Hernando, a buyer paid $615,000 for a three-bedroom, three-bath house with open views of the Gulf of Mexico.

For Florida as a whole, single-family home sales rose almost 13 percent compared to November 2015 and prices jumped 10 percent to a median of $220,000.

“A continued lack of inventory – particularly in the mid-$200,000 and under range – is creating obstacles for many buyers who are trying to enter Florida’s housing market,” Matey Veissi, president of Florida Realtors said. “Rising median prices also may be an inhibiting factor for these would-be homeowners; however, the uptick in prices could persuade sellers that now is the time to list their properties for sale, which in turn may help ease the tight supply in many areas.”

Fact check: Obama didn’t ban Christmas cards to military

A widely shared story claiming President Barack Obama ordered a ban on Christmas cards sent to the military is not true.

The story appeared Dec. 12 on the website tdtalliance using banners and logos from Fox News . The network never aired such a story.

Obama never issued such an order, White House spokesman Carl Woog said Friday.

“This story is not true and appears to be yet another example of so-called fake news,” Woog said. “The president wishes service members celebrating around the world a Merry Christmas and thanks them for what they do every day to defend the United States.”

The story claims that the White House said traditional Christmas greetings will upset Muslims in host countries and will have to be returned to the sender. Similar stories of a Christmas card ban also surfaced last year.

The White House’s holiday website includes a link offering Americans the chance to send digital messages of thanks to active-duty military members.

Obama also said during his end-of-year press conference that “few embody those values and ideals like our brave men and women in uniform and their families. So I just want to close by wishing all of them a very merry Christmas and a happy new year.”

Florida man charged with threatening Donald Trump on Facebook

A Florida man is in jail on charges that he threatened President-elect Donald Trump on Facebook.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel reports that a federal judge on Friday ordered Kevin Krohn held without bond until another hearing next week.

The Secret Service arrested the 59-year-old Krohn on Thursday at his suburban Fort Lauderdale home after agents say he posted at least two threats against Trump. In one, he allegedly wrote that he was glad President Barack Obama hadn’t seized his guns “because I see a good use for one now” over a picture of Trump.

In another comment about Trump, he allegedly wrote “he will never last long” above a picture of a man holding a sniper rifle.

The Federal Public Defender’s Office was appointed to represent Krohn.

Rick Scott hands Pam Bondi complaint to new prosecutor

Gov. Rick Scott has assigned a complaint filed against Attorney General Pam Bondi to a prosecutor in southwest Florida.

The complaint stems from scrutiny this year over a $25,000 campaign contribution Bondi received from President-elect Donald Trump in 2013.

Bondi asked for the donation around the same time her office was being asked about a New York investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University.

A Massachusetts attorney filed numerous complaints against Bondi, including one that asked State Attorney Mark Ober to investigate Trump’s donation.

Ober asked Scott in September to appoint a different prosecutor because Bondi used to work for him.

Scott assigned the case Friday to State Attorney Stephen Russell, who has one year to decide whether the complaint has any merit.

Go-ahead given for deepening Port Everglades

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has been given the green light to move forward with a plan to deepen and widen Port Everglades.

Port officials said Thursday that the corps can move ahead with the project now that President Obama signed into the law last week the Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act.

The project will deepen the port’s navigational channel to 48 feet from 42 feet and widen the entrance so that cargo ships can get past docked cruise ships.

The plan also calls for planting 103,000 new nursery-raised coral in 18 acres of existing reef areas and creating five acres of artificial reef by relocating around 11,500 corals.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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