Ana Ceballos, Author at Florida Politics - Page 3 of 13

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.

Joe Negron opens 2018 Session by addressing sexual harassment

Before talking about his legislative priorities on Opening Day of Session, Senate President Joe Negron addressed the elephant in the room: sexual harassment.

“I would like to begin today by addressing a very important issue that addressed not only the Florida Senate, but also our counterparts in Congress, the entertainment industry, employers large and small across the country and our culture in general,” Negron said.

After a series of rumors, two month-long Senate investigations and senators acknowledging extramarital affairs, the sex scandal-plagued Senate came back to Tallahassee for the 60-day Legislative Session with two of its members gone. Former Sens. Jeff Clemens and Jack Latvala resigned last year after being accused of sexual misconduct.

Minutes before delivering his speech, Sens. Anitere Flores and Oscar Braynon acknowledged that their “longtime friendship evolved to a level that we deeply regret.” This admission came hours after an anonymous site went live with private eye, grainy footage allegedly showing one senator staying overnight at another senator’s apartment.

“Let me be clear: The Florida Senate has zero tolerance for sexual harassment or misconduct of any type against any employee or visitor,” he added.

Senate Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto continues to review the chamber’s sexual harassment policy after it received backlash last year.

Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, has also filed a proposal that would bring tougher penalties for sexual harassers in state government as well as create a task force to ensure public officials behave properly and do not violate existing laws. A similar bill has also been introduced in the House.

Personnel note: Lauren Bankert, Caylee Underwood join On3PR

Lauren Bankert and Caylee Underwood are the newest members to join the woman-owned On 3 Public Relations firm.

“Their experience both in the public and private sectors, with skill sets in design as well as communications, will strengthen the services we provide clients in public relations, grassroots advocacy, coalition building and crisis communications,” President Christina Johnson announced Monday.

Johnson said Bankert will serve as an account manager and Underwood will work as an account coordinator for the decade-old public relations firm.

Bankert’s career in communications and public affairs began in the city of Jacksonville where she served as a public information officer. She most recently led the efforts for the Northeast Florida Regional STEM2 Hub.

Underwood, a graduate of the University of Florida’s College of Journalism and Communications, has worked in the editing and design team for Lee Enterprises. She most recently led marketing communications for an Ocala-based furniture design company.

Gwen Graham pays $1,200 to get Hollywood Hills records request

Gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham on Monday wrote a $1,200 personal check to the governor’s Office of Open Government, saying it is a “small price to pay” for information on the 12 Hurricane Irma-related deaths at a Hollywood nursing home.

“It’s disappointing that there are financial hurdles for the information that the people of Florida deserve to have,” Graham said.

Graham, a Democrat hoping to replace Republican Gov. Rick Scott in November, was billed the amount after she accused his administration of hiding the documents she requested. But Scott’s administration said the amount charged was a result of staffers working 100 hours to review and redact her the information at a $12 per hour rate.

McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said Graham’s request was “unique” and while other media outlets have made similar requests for information, Graham got the bill because she asked for the information first, which launched the “extensive work.”

Now that the governor’s office has received the check, Graham’s request is being finalized and will be made available online “very soon,” Lewis said.

Graham’s campaign spokesperson, Matt Harringer, said she plans to make the information available to the public as soon as she gets it.

Her request revolves around the call logs, text messages and voicemails that went to the governor’s private phone before the hurricane hit the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills and knocked the facility’s power out. His phone line was made available to nursing homes and assisted-living facilities for emergency purposes.

Graham wants to know what role the governor played in these deaths and why some voicemails were deleted, which she deems to be a violation of state public records laws.

“What I want are the voicemails,” she said, “that’s what I want and I hope the voicemails will be included in the request.”

If they are not included, she said she will “take the appropriate legal action.”

Following the evacuation of the Hollywood nursing home, fourteen elderly residents died. Twelve of those deaths have been ruled homicides and legal fights have ensued.

Up to 30,000 state Medicaid clients warned of potential data breach

Thousands of Floridians enrolled in Florida’s Medicaid program are being notified that their medical records and personal information may have been compromised, the state’s Agency of Health Care Administration said.

The data breach occurred after a state employee opened a malicious phishing email last November. The incident may have exposed the  Social Security numbers, dates of birth, Medicaid ID numbers and private health care information of up to 30,000 Floridians, a two-month-review by the Inspector General found.

While the review is ongoing, AHCA has so far been able to confirm that the Medicaid IDs and/or Social Security numbers of approximately 1,800 clients have been potentially accessed.

In response, AHCA officials are offering those affected a free one-year membership to an identity theft protection program, even though they contend there is no reason to believe individuals’ information has been misused.

No other state systems or email accounts were targeted and AHCA is currently exploring additional security options to protect against further breaches.

For more information, including steps one may take to protect themselves from potential information, enrollees may call the Agency’s hotline at 1-844-749-8327.

Bills creating tougher penalties for sexual harassers filed in both chambers

In the wake of back-to-back sex scandals at the Capitol, Sen. Lauren Book and state Rep. Kristin Jacobs on Friday filed similar bills that aim to systematically change how sexual harassment is dealt with in the workplace, particularly in a government setting.

The proposal include civil penalties of up to $10,000 for public officers and lobbyists who engage in sexual misconduct.

“While many of these issues have become top-of-the-fold stories in the past several months, it is important to recognize that this issue did not begin with the recent revelations about the two now former senators, nor will it end with their resignations unless and until we strengthen the laws to punish abusers and protect victims,” Book said.

Last year, several women came forward in two separate Senate investigations detailing accounts of harassment and sexual misconduct at the hands of Sen. Jack Latvala, who defiantly resigned his powerful post in the Senate. His resignation is effective today (Friday).

“As laid out in both the Special Master’s report and Attorney Gail Holtzman‘s investigation, the totality of the culture must be examined,” Book added.

The measures create a task force in charge of preventing sexual misconduct and harassment in the workplace, “particularly in government settings and as applied to the conduct of public officers … and lobbyists.” The task force is required to meet every four years to report its findings and recommendations to the governor and the Legislature.

The measures have the blessing of both Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“State government should lead by example in instituting policies that ensure employees feel safe when they come to work and comfortable to confidentially report inappropriate behavior by any person,” Negron said.

Under the bills proposed, the identities of victims are to remain anonymous and exempt from public records requirements.

Book said the piece of legislation has been in the works for several months and was crafted to include penalties for public officials and lobbyists who engage in sexual misconduct.

Jeb Bush endorses CFO Jimmy Patronis for another term

Calling his qualities “all too rare in politics,” former Florida Governor and presidential candidate Jeb Bush on Thursday endorsed Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis for a second term.

The former Republican House member has now picked up the endorsements of two Florida governors: Bush and Gov. Rick Scott, a longtime ally of Patronis who appointed him to be in charge of the state’s checkbooks and a nearly $300 million budget.

“As a small businessman, Jimmy understand how to keep our state growing by securing high credit ratings, and through his role as State Fire Marshal Jimmy is protecting those who protect us by fighting to improve mental health and cancer benefits for Florida firefighters,” Bush said.

Patronis, a Panama City restaurant owner,  said he was “humbled” to have Bush support his campaign.

“The mark he forever left on Florida as a successful two-term governor has been a tremendous influence on me and he will continue to be someone who’s counsel I am honored to have,” Patronis said.

As CFO, Patronis is one of three elected Cabinet members who work with Scott to set state policy. He works with Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Attorney General Pam Bondi. Scott appointed him to the position after Jeff Atwater resigned to work at Florida Atlantic University.

As he campaigns for another term as CFO, he is likely to face Republican Sen. Tom Lee in the primary. Lee has said he will run, but has not yet filed the official paperwork.

In 2006, when Bush was governor, he endorsed Lee in his failed effort to become CFO.

“He gives it to you straight,” Bush said, “with the character and experience to back it up.

“Our state needs Tom Lee.”

Senator files ‘certificate of need’ repeal bill, identical to House priority

Sen. Jeff Brandes filed a bill Wednesday that would toss a controversial “certificate of need” hospital regulatory process as the House fast-tracks an identical bill.

House Republican leaders and Gov. Rick Scott, a former hospital CEO, have long supported repealing the “certificate of need,” but the effort has stalled in the Senate.

This year, though, the bill has a powerful advocate in the Senate: Budget Chairman Rob Bradley, who last Session filed a bill to scrap that regulation.

“By eliminating the state’s restrictive CON process we’ll increase competition and drive down the cost of health care for Floridians,” Bradley said.

The House bill filed by state Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, a Fort Myers Republican, is already set for a week-one floor vote, an indication that it is again a priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran. Brandes’ bill has yet to be referred to committees.

Under both bills, the “certificate of need” would be repealed for hospitals only. Current law requires health care providers to have a “certificate of need” before building or converting hospitals, nursing homes and hospices.

The regulation was initially created in 1973 by the federal government as a method to control costs and it was repealed at the federal level in 1987. Several states have maintained some form of it, including Florida.

Personnel note: George Meros joins Holland & Knight

Longtime GrayRobinson attorney George Meros, who’s been involved with high-profile state government-related lawsuits in recent years, is next heading to Holland & Knight.

The firm announced the move Wednesday in a press release.

Meros was most recently involved as outside counsel for the Senate in the high-profile case of embattled Sen. Jack Latvala, who eventually resigned after multiple sexual misconduct allegations.

Meros, first admitted to the Florida bar in 1978, joins H&K as a partner.

“George has an incredible reputation throughout the state of Florida,” said Larry Hamilton, leader of the firm’s North Florida Litigation Group. “He’s entrusted by clients to handle their most complex, ‘bet-the-company’ cases and has also worked on some of the most important cases affecting government and public policy, which makes him a great fit for Holland & Knight.”

Meros was most recently part of a team of attorneys that helped Senate President Joe Negron navigate internal investigations into sexual harassment allegations against Latvala.

The Clearwater Republican resigned after two separate probes concluded he groped and harassed women in his influence orbit and may have engaged in a quid quo pro, sex for votes relationship with a female lobbyist.

In another prominent case, he acted as lead counsel for the Florida House as it defended its redistricting plan. And he recently represented state CFO Jimmy Patronis in a case over a new law requiring insurance companies to track down beneficiaries.

Karen Walker, an executive partner of Holland & Knight, touted Meros as one the “most respected and well-connected lawyers in Tallahassee and throughout the state.”

Meros will also be working with Mark Delegal, a well-known lobbyist in the law firm who served on Gov. Rick Scott’s finance team.

Meros’ arrival “allows us to expand out litigation and Florida government advocacy capabilities, particularly with respect to high-profile matters involving the government,” Walker said.

He received an undergraduate degree from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg and a law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. After law school, he clerked for Justice Alan Sundberg of the Florida Supreme Court.

House Speaker vows to pass ‘sanctuary city’ ban bill on week 1 of Session

On week one of Session, House Speaker Richard Corcoran is determined to pass a bill that would penalize local officials who support the passage of so-called “sanctuary city” policies.

The bill “will enforce the rule of law,” Corcoran tweeted Tuesday.

State Rep. Larry Metz, a Lake County Republican, championed an identical bill that passed the Florida House in the last week of Session. The same effort, however, went nowhere in the Senate.

House leadership has made it a priority to push through the bill this Session, but whether history will repeat itself in the Senate remains to be seen.

Republican Sens. Aaron Bean of Fernandina Beach and Greg Steube of Sarasota are leading the charge in their chamber to pass a similar proposal to the one in the House.

The Senate bill has been referred to two committees, but no hearings have been scheduled yet. The first stop would be the Judiciary Committee, chaired by Steube.

The controversial proposals have received pushback from DACA recipients, immigrant advocates, undocumented immigrants, who fear banning communities that act as “sanctuaries” for undocumented immigrants would make crimes that occur to them harder to report.

But Republicans who support the effort, including Corcoran, argue that elected officials cannot uphold the rule of law and support sanctuary cities at the same time. Corcoran has said that if they do support such policies, they should be removed from office.

HB 9 states that police chiefs, sheriff or mayors in communities that honor these policies — currently there are none in Florida — are to be fined or removed from office.

If the bill becomes law, the move would have an “indeterminate” financial burden on local communities. The bill does not guarantee reimbursement for the costs that come from fully complying with federal immigration authorities. That includes the price of holding inmates in county jails past their sentences so that immigration authorities can come pick them up for deportation.

Democrats opposed the measure last Session saying such a law would face constitutional hurdles because it could violate a person’s right to due process.

Corcoran, who is very likely to run for governor and is expected to announce once Session is over, is in support of hard-line immigration policies. He has vowed to pass the sanctuary city bill and praised President Donald Trump for ending protections for Dreamers.

“At the end of the day, I will always err on the side of our citizens and defending the rule of law,” the Land O’Lakes Republican wrote on his website.

Personnel note: Lawrence Mower joins Times/Herald capital bureau

Hailing from the Palm Beach Post’s investigative team, Lawrence Mower is the newest reporter to join the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald Tallahassee bureau.

Mower started the job last week and will cover state government and the Legislature, just in time for Session which starts Jan. 9.

“I’m really happy to be here during a pretty exciting time in the Capital,” Mower said. “It’s an honor to work for the Times/Herald bureau.”

Mower will fill the position left vacant by Jeremy Wallace, who left the Times/Herald bureau last year for a job at the Houston Chronicle. Mower is one of three new reporters to join the five-person Tallahassee bureau. Elizabeth Koh and Emily Mahoney have start dates early this month.

During his four years at the Post, Mower led several investigations. That included the “Gaming the Lottery” series which exposed flaws in the state’s lottery system. After analyzing state data, he found that some store owners likely kept winning tickets for themselves, defrauding customers.

Before joining the Post, he worked for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and led a multi-part series on police shootings in the city. The Review-Journal was his first job upon graduating from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas in 2006.

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