Ana Ceballos, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 5

Ana Ceballos

Ana covers politics and policy for Florida Politics. Before joining Florida Politics, she was the legislative relief reporter for The Associated Press and covered policy issues impacting immigration, the environment, criminal justice and social welfare in Florida. She holds a B.A. in journalism from San Diego State University. After graduating in 2014, she worked as a criminal justice reporter for the Monterey Herald and the Monterey County Weekly. She has also freelanced for The Washington Post at the U.S.-Mexico border covering crime in the border city of Tijuana, where she grew up. Ana is fluent in Spanish and has intermediate proficiency in Portuguese.

Florida Democratic Party president accused of ‘enabling’ chair’s inappropriate behavior

As Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel resigns in disgrace, the state party’s president, Sally Boynton Brown, came short of defending his inappropriate behavior toward women by saying she never experienced it and that she was “heartbroken” women did not feel comfortable coming to her with complaints.

But two former staffers, who asked Florida Politics to not identify them for fear of getting a bad reputation in the political process, said Brown was well-aware of Bittel’s systematic workplace misconduct, which included him asking women about their sex lives on a daily basis. The former staffers said Brown enabled his behavior.

“He would do it in front of Sally,” one woman said. “He was really into talking about sex, and if you went along with his conversations he would be more amicable to working with you.”

The women, who are in their 20s, said it was their impression that Bittel’s behavior worsened after she took the job in May because she allowed it to go on.

“He would say, ‘at your age you must be having lots of sex,'” one woman said. “He was very systematic with this and he would only say it in front of women.”

In a letter to party members, though, Brown said she never experienced it and that he always treated her as a “full-partner.”

“In my experience, Chairman Bittel has been refreshingly open to feedback, given by myself and others, about his conversational style and modified his approached when he learned that others found it off-putting.” Brown said in a letter to party members.

The women said they were upset when they read Brown’s letter because she put the responsibility on victims to come forward when she knew about the misconduct as a top staffer and did nothing about it.

“She is trying to cover her ass (with the letter) and it is disgusting,” one woman said.

The other woman said it was only a matter of time before Brown was criticized for the letter because her saying she never witnessed his misconduct was “obviously not true.”

In the letter, Brown said the state party’s sexual harassment policy has been under review for the past few month and that efforts to change the “culture” at the Florida Democratic Party have been ongoing.

Moving forward she is suggesting hiring a personnel director to oversee staffing manners, updating the sexual harassment policy to include “all types of bullying and harassment,” and employ a third-party personnel committee for harassment reporting purposes.

Her recommendations to improve the state party’s sexual harassment policy and culture are a stark contrast to her approach in a Nov. 12 memo to staff, where she wrote “sexy harassment” instead of sexual harassment when going over a staff retreat schedule to do an overview of the personnel policy.

Bittel’s abrupt departure comes at a time of turmoil at the state Capitol, as he and two other lawmakers — Sen. Jack Latvala and Jeff Clemenshave recently been accused of acting inappropriately toward women in the legislative process.

Latvala, who has been accused of sexually harassment and groping by six unnamed women in a POLITICO Florida report, has said there is a political overtone to the claims. Brown is saying the same in the wake of Bittel being criticized.

As Bittel resigns in shame, one thing has been apparent as elected officials condemned his behavior: it was along party lines, only no Republican chimed in. All four Democrats running for governor called for his resignation, and Democrats in both Congress and the state Legislature, however, called his behavior disgusting and said it was good for the party to have him step down.

“I am dismayed to hear people piling on and making this into a political fight or sensationalizing these women’s very tragic experiences instead of demanding justice and solutions to ensure no women has these stories to tell again,” Brown said in the letter.

Florida Democratic Party leader resigns after complaints that he belittled women

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel said Friday he is resigning following reports that he would belittle and make suggestive remarks to women which created a hostile workplace environment.

His tenure at the helm of the state’s party did not last a year, and his resignation will be formally submitted early next week.

Judy Mount, the state party’s  current vice chair, will take on chair duties in an interim role. On Dec. 9, the party’s State Executive Committee will elect Bittel’s successor.

Allison Tant, the state party’s former chairwoman, told Florida Politics that at least seven women came to her to complain about the inappropriate and demeaning behavior they endured during his tenure. Tant said numerous women left their jobs because of his behavior.

“When my personal situation becomes distracting to our core mission of electing Democrats and making Florida better, it is time for me to step aside,” Bittel said in a statement.

Bittel, a millionaire South Florida developer, apologized for his behavior and did not deny the accounts of six unnamed women who called him “creepy” and “demeaning” in a POLITICO Florida report.

“I am proud of what we have built as a Party and the wins we have had for Florida families, but I apologize for all who have felt uncomfortable during my tenure at the Democratic Party,” Bittel said.

After Bittel announced he was stepping down, fellow Democrats and current staffers lauded the decision and also called for the state party to review it sexual harassment policy to avoid incidents like this in the future.

One woman, who asked Florida Politics to not include her name for fear of losing her job, said she avoided him at all costs in the workplace after witnessing his behavior with other women. She said that him being out is a “mission accomplished.”

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson, who recently cut fellow Democrat Al Franken from appearing at a campaign fundraiser for allegedly sexually harassing and groping a radio anchor, said Bittel stepping aside was “for the good of the party.”

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz said Bittel’s is not a political issue, but rather a societal one.

“The harassment that women endure on a daily basis is a serous, systemic problem and it must stop,” Wasserman Schultz said. “Stephen Bittel did the right thing for the part, one that he’s worked so hard for in the past. But as a party and as a society, we must learn from this.”

Florida Democratic Congresswoman Stephanie Murphy condemned Bittel’s behavior and said his resignation was “appropriate.”

“We’ve worked too hard to advance workplace equality for women to feel unsafe at work,” Murphy said in a tweet.

Former FDP chairwoman aware of Bittel’s ‘objectifying’ behavior, calls on him to resign

Allison Tant, the former Florida Democratic Party chairwoman, said Friday that out of “moral necessity” Stephen Bittel, the current party chairman criticized for creating a hostile work environment for women, should step down.

Tant said that since she left, and Bittel took over in January, at least seven women — who are in their 20s and continued to work for the state’s party — have sought her to complain about Bittel’s inappropriate behavior toward them.

“These are young women who cannot trust their boss with their solitary presence,” Tant said. “They need other eyes to keep them safe while they work? It’s unacceptable.”

Female staffers have complained about Bittel belittling them in front of male lobbyists and elected officials, and Tant said she is “infuriated” that accomplished, smart women who believe in the value of the Democratic party are being treated in a “demeaning” and “objectifying manner” by their leader.

“When I left I told him, please, be good to these people, we had just taken a tough loss and it was demoralizing,” Tant said. “He gets there and the war starts happening. It’s been hard for me to see this.”

Since POLITICO Florida reported late Thursday that six former state party staffers and consultants complained about Bittel creating a hostile work environment toward women — that included making suggestive remarks and having a breast-shaped stress squeeze-ball at his work desk — Bittel has apologized. He did not deny the women’s accounts.

“I’m infuriated that the story is: he’s not a predator and it’s OK to apologize. It’s not,” Tant said.

In the wake of the reports, all four Democrats running for governor — Gwen Graham, Philip Levine, Andrew Gillum and Chris Kinghave asked Bittel to resign. Tant wants him to step down too. She says it is out of “moral necessity.”

“We cannot be the party to speak for the vulnerable and voiceless; demand equal work for women and stand up to women being sexually abused and let this roll,” Tant said.

UPDATE: On Friday morning, Bittel announced he is resigning following reports that he created a hostile work environment for women by “belittling” them in front of male staffers and making suggestive remarks.

Gwen Graham: Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel ‘must resign’

Gwen Graham, a top Democratic gubernatorial candidate, has asked Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel to resign following reports that he was “creepy” and “demeaning” toward women in the workplace.

Graham said this morning she called Bittel — who has apologized for his behavior and did not deny the account of six unnamed women who talked to POLITICO Florida — to tell him he should resign.

“No one should have to work in an uncomfortable environment,” Graham said in a statement. “Bittel’s behavior and the atmosphere he has created is unacceptable. He must resign.”

Andrew Gillum, a Democrat who is also running for governor, has also called on Bittel to step down.

Former Florida Democratic Party staffers say chair made ‘demeaning’ remarks toward women

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Stephen Bittel has been accused of creating a hostile workplace environment for women by making constant inappropriate comments and suggestion, according to six unnamed women who talked to POLITICO Florida.

While the women told POLITICO that they were never inappropriately touched, they said Bittel’s  suggestive remarks, invitations to go on his private plane and even his possession of a breast-shaped stress squeeze-ball kept at his desk made them uncomfortable

“The biggest thing I will say is that it became a policy that women, especially junior staff, were never to be left alone with him in his office, plane or house,” a former party staffer told the news outlet.

Bittel, a millionaire South Florida developer, has apologized for his behavior and did not deny the accounts of the women who talked to POLITICO Florida.

“Every person, regardless of their gender, race, age or sexuality should be treated with respect and valued for their hard work and contributions to our community and if any of my comments or actions did not reflect that belief I am deeply sorry,” Bittel said.

A woman told POLITICO that Bittel’s constant remarks belittling women prompted her to leave her job.

“There is a reason I left,” one woman told POLITICO. “He’s very demeaning. He’s inappropriate in his comments he makes to women.”

These accounts by these women — identified as former FDP staffer and consultants — come after stories of alleged sexual misconduct by powerful men in the Florida Senate, including Sen. Jack Latvala, a Clearwater Republican running for governor, who is accused by six unnamed women of sexually groping and harassing them. Latvala is currently under investigation by the Senate.

“I have much to learn, but my goal is and has always been to make sure every member of our party has a safe environment in which to succeed. It seems I’ve not been successful in that goal, and I will do better,” Bittel said.

UPDATE: On Friday morning, Bittel announced he is resigning following reports that he created a hostile work environment for women by “belittling” them in front of male staffers and making suggestive remarks.

Senate hires Gray Robinson’s legal representation during Jack Latvala probe

As the Senate investigates sexual harassment allegations against Sen. Jack Latvala, Senate President Joe Negron has hired a legal team to represent him through the proceedings.

After the Senate General Counsel Dawn Roberts recused herself from the probe that is expected to stretch for about a month, Negron found itself in need of legal help and hired three attorneys from Gray Robinson.

Among those attorneys is George Meros who has worked in several high-profile cases, including then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential recount.

In the contract signed Nov. 9, the Senate has agreed to pay the attorneys — at taxpayers’ expense — on an hourly rate. Attorney Brian Bieber will earn $600 an hour; Meros will make $550 an hour; and Allison Mawhinney will charge $345 an hour, according to the contract.

Campaign finance records show that Gray Robinson gave $2,500 to Latvala’s political committee on Oct. 23. The contribution was nearly a week before POLITICO Florida first reported that six anonymous women in the legislative process had been sexually harassed and groped by the powerful Clearwater Republican.

Lawmakers push bill banning state from investing in Venezuela

In a further attempt to starve President Nicolas Maduro’s government from money, state lawmakers want to make sure state agencies are barred from investing on companies that do business with Venezuela.

“We cannot as a state and should not prop up the Maduro regime, which inflicts misery upon its people,” state Rep. Jeannette Nunez, a Miami Republican, said.

The bill (HB 359) filed by Nunez and Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., a Republican from Hialeah, would turn a resolution passed by Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet in August into state law.

The resolution says the state should prohibit state investment managers to use state money to invest in companies controlled by the government of Venezuela.

Under the bill, sanctions could be waived if there is a “collapse of the government or if there is a humanitarian crisis or need for immediate aid to Venezuela,” Nunez said.

The measure cleared the House Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee unanimously, with no debate. The bill has two more committee stops before it can be considered in the House floor.

Jennifer Sullivan to take over Neil Combee’s chairmanship

As state Rep. Neil Combee prepares to leave the Florida House to take a post in President Donald Trump’s administration, he announced Thursday that state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan will be taking over his chairmanship at the Oversight, Transparency & Administration Subcommittee.

“Be kind, be generous and do a good job,” Combee told teary-eyed members of the panel.

Combee said in a letter to House Speaker Richard Corcoran that he is resigning the Florida House to take a job as director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency, effective on Nov. 24.

Sullivan, a Republican from Mount Dora, became the youngest female legislator in Florida history when elected in 2014.  This is the first committee she will chair.

Lawmakers champion efforts to reform criminal justice system

Some Florida lawmakers say that seeing the positive impact of criminal justice reform efforts in other states has given them new impetus to push for measures that aim to reduce the state’s prison population by giving sentences that “fit a just result.”

The early bipartisan undertaking to reform the state’s criminal justice system — an endeavor that has hit legislative roadblocks in past years — is starting with two main proposals. One seeks to give judge’s discretion over mandatory minimum sentences in certain drug cases and the other would increase the felony property theft threshold from $300 to $1,500.

Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes and Democratic state Rep. Ben Diamond, both of St. Petersburg, are both championing bills that would revise the state’s mandatory minimum sentencing laws by relying on a “judicial safety valve” in cases involving non-violent, low-level offenders.

A separate Senate bill filed by Sen. Randolph Bracy would also allow judges to depart from the 3-year mandatory minimum in certain drug trafficking cases, but would not apply to those caught with opioids and opiates. Under Brandes’ bill, judges would still have discretion over certain offenders found in possession of opioids.

“We have to stop treating addict like king pins and unfortunately, Florida’s drug laws all too often treat addicts like king pins,” Brandes said.

Bracy said his decision to not include those caught with opioids is in wake of the epidemic hitting the state and a stricter opioid penalty bill being signed into law last Session.

Brandes, who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, said there may be a change of heart in the Senate on this topic.

Bracy and state Rep. Byron Donalds, a Republican from Naples, filed legislation on Wednesday that looks to amend the “outdated” property theft threshold, which was last raised in 1986.

A bill that would have changed the state’s felony theft threshold passed three House committees last Session, but died in the Senate.

In response to these reform efforts, Diamond said lawmakers have an obligation to be “smart” in how they spend taxpayers’ money, adding that the state spends about $2.5 billion every year to incarcerate nearly 100,000 inmates.

Florida has the 10th highest incarceration rate in the nation, according to data from the Sentencing Project published in 2016. And it has the highest rate for felony disenfranchisement in the country.

Brandes, who believes in rehabilitating inmates and having educational and vocational programs in prison, said more measures dealing with this topic will be unveiled in the upcoming weeks.

Nursing home generator mandate, sanctions remain in effect

As the administration of Gov. Rick Scott appeals a court decision against its emergency generator rule, a court ordered Tuesday that the rule — and its deadlines — remain in effect as that process continues.

The one-page court order clarified that nursing homes and assisted-living facilities need to meet the rule’s Nov. 15 deadline that requires them to install generators capable of maintaining comfortable temperatures in case a power outage occurs. If they don’t they will face mandatory fines of $1,000 for each day they are not in compliance, starting on Nov. 16.

FL Argentum, one of the parties that challenged the rule in administrative court,

The rule was implemented in the wake of eight nursing home residents dying at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills when Hurricane Irma hit. There are now 14 deaths linked to the facility’s power loss that prompted the cooling system to crash down in the midst of the storm.

While nursing home groups say they want to meet Scott’s goal, they view the 60-day timeline as unrealistic and for that reason, three associations decided to challenge it in administrative court — and they were successful. The Scott administration, however, has appealed the decision and that process is ongoing.

The court process had added to a growing tension between nursing home groups and the Scott administration, and the Tuesday ruling is evidence of such.

FL Argentum, one of the parties that challenged the rule in court, said they interpret this week’s ruling as the First District Court of Appeal ordered Scott’s rule as invalid and not in effect as of Oct. 27, when the groups successfully challenged the mandate.

“If the (state agencies want) a stay so the rule can continue in effect, they have the option to file a motion for a stay and have that motion granted, which hasn’t happened,” Sandi Poreda, a spokesperson for the group, said.

The two state agencies carrying the rule out — the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Elder Affairs have been publicly outing the facilities that have not complied with the rule since Oct. 31. In some instances, they have done so erroneously and added confusion to the compliance process.

Steve Bahmer, the president of LeadingAge Florida, an association that represents more than 100 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities and is also among those that challenged the rule, said it is “impossible” for the majority of its members to comply with the rule’s requirements within 60 days.

“It is just impossible,” Bahmer said.

AHCA and DOEA will be the agencies fining facilities that do not comply, and they have no discretion over those penalties. But those who are sanctioned do have the option to dispute the fines if imposed.

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