Ana Ceballos, Author at Florida Politics - Page 2 of 24

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.

House, Senate reach budget deal with $90m in last-minute spending

Legislative leaders closed out the largest proposed budget in state history Thursday that included nearly $90 million in last-minute spending for projects that largely have to do with education.

As the House and Senate finalized differences on the roughly $88 billion 2018-19 budget, the supplemental funding — informally known as the “sprinkle fund” — was unveiled in a 10 a.m. budget meeting.

The 21 last-minute spending list includes $30 million for charter school maintenance projects, $20 million for performance-based incentive in the state university system and $3.3 million for the University of South Florida.

From that list, a dozen items are hurricane-related costs and contingent on reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Another budget item negotiators agreed to pay in the end is a member project championed by state Rep. Mike La Rosa, a Republican whose district includes Polk County.

La Rosa wanted to get $1.3 million in funding to repair major damage caused to a Polk County charter school by Hurricane Irma last year. Lawmakers decided to give $1.2 million to the school to help with building repair costs and costs associated with school supplies and relocating students to an off campus location. From those funds, $700,000 are subject to federal reimbursement.

Throughout budget negotiations budget writers said members projects were cut and priorities were reshuffled to fund the $400 million “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Act,” which included $67 million for a controversial program to arm school personnel and more funding for mental health services in schools across the state.

Lawmakers have yet to vote on the budget, which is the largest proposed budget in state history. They will have to wait until at least Sunday afternoon to give it final approval.

Legislative leaders increase funding for UF project

Dozens of member projects were zeroed out as legislative leaders reached a deal on an $87 billion budget deal, but one University of Florida project was not only salvaged, it got double of what the House and Senate had initially agreed to.

“It was about making sure that the projects that we chose had the greatest impact on the economy and greatest return on investments,” Senate Budget Chair Rob Bradley told reporters after budget conference Wednesday night.

The House and the Senate had initially agreed to fund the Data Science and Information center at the University of Florida at $25 million, but on Wednesday once the budget deal had been agreed to, it got $50 million in funds.

Throughout the budget process, legislators said a lot of member projects had to be cut to find money for the $400 million “Marjory Stoneman Douglas Act.”

Most of the money in the school safety package will go to “school hardening,” such as security upgrades to school buildings and bringing more school resource officer on staff.

DSR survived the belt-tightening without a loss of funds.

“Having this data science center is an important step into the 21st Century and UF is a leader in that cutting-edge technology,” Bradley said.

The UF Data Science Research Lab uses cutting edge technology to develop data management, data mining and data analysis strategies for everything from text-based databases to multimedia ones with images and video.

In addition to state funding, projects at DSR have received funding from federal sources, such as DARPA, and private industry, including Amazon, Pivotal and Google.

Lawmakers agree with Rick Scott, give juvenile officers $8m in pay raises

With a budget deal done, there is good news for juvenile detention and probation officers. They are getting a pay raise.

The House and Senate agreed Wednesday to set aside $8 million in pay raises for the more than 2,000 detention and probation officers who work with at-risk youth in the state. That amount goes hand in hand with Gov. Rick Scott’s spending plan proposal was before the Legislative Session began.

The money commitment will amount to a 10-percent pay raise, which Scott hopes will help recruit and retain better detention and probation officers to work in the Department of Juvenile Justice.

It also comes after an investigation by the Miami Herald exposed juvenile detainees being abused and exploited in the state system by those tasked to care and supervise them.

The “Fight Club” series found that over a 10-year period youth care workers would give detainees honey buns and other treats as a reward for beating other youth, revealing systemic misconduct at DJJ stemming from inexperienced and underpaid staff as well as inadequate personnel standards and a high tolerance for cover-ups.

The $8 million will be part of the $87 billion spending plan for the 2018-19 fiscal year.

‘It’s silly’: Senate won’t punish Enterprise Rent-A-Car for NRA move

Senate Budget Chief Rob Bradley said it would set “bad precedent” to go along with a House plan that would have financially punished Enterprise Rent-A-Car for cutting ties with the National Rifle Association.

“I think that it’s silly to get involved in rebidding contracts … because you’re mad at a temporary moment in time about something that they have or haven’t done politically,” Bradley said.

House members,  mirroring what Georgia lawmakers were doing, tried to target an aviation fuel tax reduction benefitting Delta and a statewide rental car contract held by Enterprise after the companies severed ties with the NRA, according to a POLITICO Florida report. The rental cat company’s contract expires in 2020.

The House quietly proposed a plan that would have hurt Delta and Enterprise after the companies decided not to give NRA members discounts following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. The decision came after Parkland students, teachers and parents organized massive protests urging for more gun-control measures.

The Fleming Island Republican said the state should not get involved in the fight because it would set “bad precedent” if they did.

A tearful, fed-up Larry Lee decides to leave House

Despite being able to run for a final two years in the House, Rep. Larry Lee Jr. announced Wednesday he is pulling the plug on politics.

“You get to this point in your life when you say, ‘why do I have to stand up and take all of these acts?’ Because when you continue to lay down, people will continue to step on you,” Lee, a Port St. Lucie Democrat, told Florida Politics.

Disheartened by the way things get done in the Legislature, Lee made the announcement to House Democrats during a caucus meeting. He said he is leaving to do work outside of the process, like helping the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivors, he said.

“Change won’t come from the inside,” he told fellow Democrats earlier Wednesday.

Lee has served in the Legislature since 2012 and said he’s learned to work across the aisle. People in his district have encouraged him to run for re-election three times because they tell him both sides in the political spectrum listen to him.

But as Democrats and Republicans clash in the House over a contentious bill in response to the Douglas High tragedy, the former teacher and coach said he would encourage young activists to run as independents.

The measure up for a vote includes provisions to arm school staff, raises the legal age to buy assault rifles from 18 to 21, and boosts funding for mental health services in schools.

It has a mix of bipartisan opposition with hardline Republicans opposing the gun restrictions and Democrats saying that it does not go far enough without an assault rifle ban. Democrats for the most part oppose arming school staff.

Lee said he met on Monday with House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, to tell him about his decision to depart after this term.

In his office, Corcoran pulled out a Bible, read a verse to Lee and asked him to think about it for one more day.

But after a marathon discussion on the school safety bill (SB 7026) that Democrats failed to amend, Lee’s decision was made.

“It’s time to leave,” he said in tears. “My heart is very heavy.”

House wants diversion programs with tougher qualifications for offenders

The Florida House Monday supported creating pre-arrest diversion programs for juveniles and adults, but the chamber wants to make it “a little bit harder” for offenders to qualify than the Senate does.

The Republican-controlled chamber adopted a “strike-all” amendment sought by state Rep. Larry Ahern, who is championing the bill in the House. The amended bill now states that those suspected of a misdemeanor domestic violence or stalking cannot participate in a diversion program.

The House moved away from the Senate’s proposal, which would have mandated every judicial circuit in the state to create a program and allowed them to choose their offender eligibility criteria.

Under the House proposal, the program may be operated by a police department, a municipality or an entity selected by a jurisdiction.

Sen. Jeff Brandes has made this one of his criminal reform priorities this session, arguing that diversion programs would give law enforcement another tool to serve between a warning and an arrest for low-level offenders. Those who would qualify would be primarily first-time misdemeanor offenders.

The programs would be optional for qualifying offenders and the bill would not get rid of diversion programs that are already operating in the state. And if participants complete the program, they qualify for their criminal records to be expunged from the system.

The proposal has been criticized by the bail bond industry, but Brandes has fired back saying he is “not in the business of making bail bondsman money.”

Both chambers have to approve the change made by the House on Monday, and with days left in the 2018 legislative session, the fate of the bill could rest on whether the Senate approves the change or not.

House passes Adam Putnam’s priority without contentious gun provision

The Florida House Tuesday passed a priority bill for Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam without a toxic gun provision and without considering a contentious bill tied to puppy mills.

The language in the House plan was causing heartburn, but state Rep. Jake Raburn, who is sponsoring the House bill, decided to consider the Senate plan, which was much less contentious.

“We’re taking up the Senate bill in place of the House bill. That language has been removed,” Raburn said.

The House bill came under fire by the House Democrats during a caucus meeting Tuesday morning after members saw the House bill would be on special calendar. State Rep. Sean Shaw said the bill, which covers a wide-range of policy issues overseen by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, was “insidious” because of the gun provision.

That language would have allowed the state to process gun licensing permits within 90 days even if there was an incomplete criminal background check.

Putnam, a Republican candidate for governor who has made gun rights the centerpiece of his campaign, asked for the language to be included in both the House and Senate bills early on in the 2018 Legislative Session. But the provision came under fire after the Parkland school mass shooting.

Earlier Tuesday, Corcoran’s office indicated they would put their language on the Senate bill, a move that ultimately did not happen.

A day after the massacre, the Senate stripped the language from its bill due to a “timing and sensitivity” issue. The upper chamber passed its version last week.

If the House did not take out the gun provision, it would have been extremely unlikely for the proposal to pass the Legislature this year.

Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel, the sponsor of the Senate bill, told Florida Politics she would not take up the bill with the gun provision.

In addition to the gun provision, a contentious amendment by state Rep. Halsey Beshears,which was opposed by animal rights advocates, was tossed Tuesday.

The Monticello Republican filed an amendment under the House bill Monday, which would have voided any local ordinances in the state that ban the sale of dogs from USDA-licensed breeders. This could have limited the local government’s ability to crack down on puppy mills and rally animal rights advocates against the bill.

Putnam’s priority bill easily passed the House and is now headed to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.

Senators get jars of tar and feathers labeled ‘Enemy of Freedom’ after gun bill vote

A man who was “quietly watching” the Senate debate on a controversial gun bill Monday was spotted carrying into the Capitol about a dozen jars full of tar and feathers labeled “Enemy of Freedom Award.”

The destination: the offices of Democratic and Republican state senators, some of whom voted for new gun restrictions and others who did not, but who have been vocal supporters of an assault weapon ban.

POLITICO Florida first reported that senators received the odd gift after the Senate narrowly passed the gun and school safety initiative, which includes a ban on bump stock sales, raising the legal age to buy an assault rifle from 18 to 21 and a three-day waiting period before someone can purchase a firearm.

Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said the jars she saw had white notes with the names of senators on one side and a message about children being in support of the Second Amendment on the other side.

An aide to a Republican senator said the jar was delivered to the office by a man who identified himself as someone from the Libertarian Caucus.

While strange, Betta said novelties from those who oppose the views of legislators is not unprecedented. National Rifle Association Lobbyist Marion Hammer told POLITICO Florida that she was not behind the rare jelly jar present, topped with a poop emoji and feathers.

The plan that passed the Senate on Monday is currently being considered by the Florida House. House Democrats on Tuesday morning unanimously voted to take a caucus position against one of the provisions that would allow school staff to be armed with guns on campus to react in case of an active shooting.

The proposal also provides for a $400 million appropriation on school safety and mental health initiatives.

House Dems take caucus position against arming school staff

The 41 Democrats of the Florida House unanimously voted Tuesday morning to take a caucus position against a proposed program that would arm school staff with guns.

Rep. Joe Geller of Aventura made the motion to do so, and on a voice vote the move was approved.

But when another motion was made to take a caucus position against SB 7026 as whole, Geller said it would be “premature” and that members should wait and see which of the 98 filed amendments are added to the bill.

The House will consider the $400 million gun and school safety package for the first time since the Senate debated the proposal at length.

The Senate narrowly passed a watered-down version of the bill, which now excludes most teachers from participating in a voluntary program that arms teachers and trains them to act in case of an active shooting situation.

The bill also bans the sale of “bump stocks,” raises the legal age to buy an assault rifle from 18 to 21, and imposes a three-day waiting period for the purchase of all firearms.

Pixabay (free download)

Senate, House reach compromise on controversial child marriage bill

The Florida Senate gave initial approval Monday to a compromise with the House on the controversial child marriage bill, which would allow 17-year-old to wed in the state.

The Republican-controlled House initially wanted to allow 16- and 17-year-olds to marry in cases where there is a pregnancy and the older partner is no more than two years older than the minor.

A new amendment filed by Republican Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, the sponsor of SB 140, was adopted on a voice vote. With that the Senate moved from an outright ban on minor marriage, to allow minors who are 17 to wed if there is parental consent and the partner is no more than two years older. Benacquisto wanted to get rid of the pregnancy requirement added by the House.

With the amendment, the bill passed the Senate unanimously.

“Proud that our bill to have the strongest #EndChildMarriage laws in the nation passes unanimously in the Senate and I look forward to the House taking it up and passing!” Benacquisto tweeted.

The Senate bill now repeals a state law that allows a court to issue a marriage license to a girl or boy under the age of 18 if both parties swear under oath that they are the parents of a child. This loophole in the law has led to some children, as young as 13, to be forced into marriage.

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