Ana Ceballos, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 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.

Fla. Democrats hammer Adam Putnam, Ron DeSantis over gun proposal silence

A day after Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature unveiled their plans to back unprecedented new restrictions on guns in the state, the Florida Democratic Party started taking note of the Republican gubernatorial candidates who have stayed silent on the issue.

Citing their “significant backing from the gun lobby,” the state party is pointing its finger at two candidates: Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who has dubbed himself an “NRA sellout,” and Congressman Ron DeSantis.

Over the span of their political careers, both have received more than $10,000 in NRA donations, according to a POLITICO report. And before the deadliest school shooting in the state took place last week, they touted that backing.

“The Tampa Bay Times recently called me a sellout to the NRA,” Putnam once said. “As someone who believed the Second Amendment is an inalienable right, I’ll wear that comment like a badge of honor. I’m a proud NRA Sellout.”

Now, facing massive protests, the candidates are keeping quiet on whether they support the plan rolled out by Gov. Scott and the Florida House and Senate, which includes raising the age limit to buy guns to 21 and banning bump stocks. Their proposals also include millions of dollars in funding to harden schools and mental health services.

“The two gov candidates’ silence seems to reflect a larger failure by the GOP to answer the demands of the #NeverAgain movement,” FDP spokesman Kevin Donohoe said in an email.

Donohoe then linked to a screenshot of an email sent by Florida GOP leadership telling members to not answer comments on the proposals.

“We understand the media is reaching out for comments on the plan; however, we ask you do not answer any questions because the RPOF does not take positions on legislation until all three branches of government agree,” Chairman Blaise Ingoglia wrote to members.

FDLE asks for $1 million in federal funding to assist Parkland law enforcement

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement requested $1 million in emergency funding from the U.S. Justice Department this week to reimburse law enforcement agencies that responded to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting.

Local agencies are facing “significant costs” after responding to the shooting that left 18 people dead, including 15 students. The exact amount that is needed could change in the future, Petrina Tuttle Herring, the bureau chief of FDLE’s Office of Criminal Justice Grants, said in a letter.

Tuttle Herring said the money would go to “reimburse units of state and local government for personnel/overtime for response, investigative, intelligence and custody/supervision activities.”

In addition to the initial response on Feb. 14, law enforcement officers continue to investigate the case and perform “around-the-clock supervision and monitoring of the suspect,” 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz.

Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder and could face the death penalty after he confessed to using an AR-15, which was legally purchased, to slaughter his former classmates and teachers on Valentine’s Day.

Easing drug trafficking mandatory minimums headed to Senate floor

Someone caught with oxycodone pills weighing at least 7 grams can be sentenced to a mandatory three-year sentence and fined $50,000 under Florida drug trafficking state laws.

That could soon change for non-violent offenders who are not involved with a criminal organization under a Senate proposal that would allow judges to depart from mandatory minimum sentences, but not fines.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes and Democrat Sen. Randolph Bracy, cleared the Senate Appropriations Committee on a 15-5 vote and now heads to the Senate floor for consideration.

The proposal would impact those criminally charged under the drug trafficking statute, whether it be sale, delivery, importation, manufacturing or possession of large quantities of a controlled substance. That would include cocaine, marijuana and opioids such as fentanyl.

A Democrat-sponsored House effort that would seek to reduce sentences for certain drug offenses has not moved in the chamber though. This could show signs of trouble for the proposal with two weeks left in the 2018 legislative session.

The Senate and the House have pushed a series of criminal justice reforms this year, but those seeking to loosen mandatory minimum sentences requirements have not been too welcome in the House. Lobbyist Barney Bishop has also been critical of the measure, saying that it would not help drug addict, but instead aid those with “so much drugs” on them.

Brandes, however, has pushed back on that claim.

“Our point here is largely low level people who are addicts and get involved with heroin and they may purchase heroin that is mixed with fentanyl,” Brandes said.

Senate panel pushes criminal justice overhaul bill

A sweeping criminal justice bill that would upend how the state collects data on offenders in an attempt to better determine who is incarcerated and for how long is moving in the Senate.

The measure would require the Department of Corrections to use risk-assessment instruments that can identify the appropriate intervention and program for an offenders in an effort to reduce recidivism. Sen. Jeff Brandes said his bill (SB 1218) could be used as the foundation for “meaningful” criminal justice reform in the future.

Lobbyist Barney Bishop told the panel he is in favor of bolstering data collection on the criminal justice field, but said it will cost the state a “good chunk.” According to staff analysis, that “chunk” would amount to nearly $1.1 million — nearly $764,000 of which would go to technology-related costs for the assessment system.

Groups that included the Florida Association of Counties, the James Madison Institute, Americans for Prosperity and Right on Crime told the panel they were in support of the bill and Agnes Furey, a Tallahassee restorative justice advocate.

The Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal Justice Subcommittee cleared the measure unanimously before adjourning for the 2018 legislative session.

“This remains a work in progress and we will continue to work on it,” Brandes said. “It’s amazing to see the shift we are seeing in the Senate and the Legislature as a whole.”

In Florida, there are about 96,000 inmates incarcerated in a system that costs taxpayers an estimated $2.4 billion every year. Brandes has taken the lead in championing reforms this year that have not gained much traction in the Legislature over the years — and some that the House may find a bit hard to swallow, like changing the state’s mandatory minimum sentences.

But both chambers are on the same page when it comes to data collection. The Florida House on Wednesday passed HB 7071, which leadership called a “game changing criminal justice data transparency” bill.

Republican state Rep. Chris Sprowls said the measure will make the state a “model for effective, data-driven criminal justice” and “create the gold standard for the rest of the country.”

The measure would require the DOC to report and publish, on a quarterly basis, inmate admission by offense type and recidivism rates with a unique identifier for each person who is subject of a criminal case. Information on those who make the arrests or prosecute the cases would not be tracked under the bill.

“As a former prosecutor, I know that our justice system must be better informed and that there are changes needed to create a more fair, accountable and transparent system,” Sprowls said.

With Parkland students present, Senate postpones gun bill vote

A Senate bill that would allow guns in churches with schools attached was temporarily postponed on Wednesday, but it could still come back later in the legislative session.

As Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting survivors filled the seats in the Senate gallery, Senate President Joe Negron said the gun bill by Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley would be “temporarily postponed today.” The bill (SB 1048) was ready for a final vote in the chamber.

Whether the bill is considered in the last two weeks of session, Negron said, is up to the Baxley and Senate Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto.

Baxley’s proposal would allow those with concealed carry permits to bring guns into churched if they have the permission from the property owner, unless there are school-sponsored activities going on.

The House is considering a similar bill that does not restrict gun access to the premise during school hours. That bill is ready for a final vote, but has yet to be heard.

Once stalled in Senate, bill aiding injured immigrant workers advances

A Senate panel on Tuesday cleared a bill that could bring changes to a state law that has allowed insurance companies to avoid payouts to undocumented injured workers and has already led the state referring a handful of cases to federal immigration authorities.

“The bill is designed to ensure workers injured on the job to obtain the benefits that they are due,” Sen. Gary Farmer, who sponsors the measure, said. “Really, this is a glitch bill.”

The proposal (SB 1568) would get rid of a 2003 change in workers’ compensation state law that makes it a felony for people to use false or misleading information about their identities in order to get a job. Workers’ compensation fraud laws are usually intended to nab employees who fake injuries or employers who leave workers without benefits as mandated by state law.

But Rich Templin, a lobbyist with Florida AFL-CIO, said a “problem uniquely terrible” to Florida has been highlighted in investigative reports by Naples Daily News and ProPublica.

“There’s collusion with insurance carriers to hire undocumented individuals, who are injured on the job,” Templin said. “They would call immigration themselves and have those individuals deported without treatment for their medical injuries.”

Under current state law, workers compensation fraud complaints are sent to the state’s Division of Investigative and Forensic Services. While that division does not have the authority to serve in any immigration-related capacity, it handles a variety of workers comp-related laws that have involved undocumented immigrants.

Since 2013, that division has referred 160 cases workers’ compensation cases to an entity outside the state department, according to Jon Moore, the spokesman for Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis. Five of those were sent to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement for further investigation.

According to a Naples Daily News investigation, at least 163 immigrant workers in Florida have been charged with felonies for providing false identification after being injured at work since 2004. Of those case, 159 were reported by employers or insurance companies.

The issue gained national attention, but Farmer said two weeks ago the bill was unlikely to be heard this session. But Miami Republican Sen. Anitere Flores, who chairs the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee, decided to hear the bill on Tuesday.

“She has indicated that she has a great level of understanding and empathy on the topic,” Farmer told Florida Politics.

The bill squeaked through the committee on a 6-4 vote, with Republican Sens. Rob Bradley, Doug Broxson, George Gainer and Denise Grimsley in opposition. Flores and Republican Sen. Rene Garcia voted for the measure along with Democrats in the panel.

The measure now heads to the Senate Committee on Commerce and Tourism, which is chaired by Democratic Sen. Bill Montford. The bill does not have a House companion.

Shawn Harrison

Shawn Harrison fires aide for falsely calling Parkland students ‘actors’

Republican state Rep. Shawn Harrison fired his aide on Tuesday after he said two students who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting were “actors that travel to various crisis (sic) when they happen.”

“I am appalled at and strongly denounce his comments about the Parkland students,” Harrison tweeted about Benjamin Kelly. “I am again sorry for any pain this has caused the grieving families of this tragedy.”

The news broke on Twitter when Tampa Bay Times Washington correspondent Alex Leary reported that Kelly, who was Harrison’s district secretary, said David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez, two of the most outspoken students since the tragedy occurred last week, were both actors.

Kelly then shared a link to a YouTube conspiracy video, featuring one of the students. He later confirmed his termination in a tweet, but did not say the information he provided was false.

“I’ve made a mistake whereas I tried to inform a reporter of information relating to his story regarding a school shooting,” Kelly said. “This was not my responsibility. I meant no disrespect to the students or parents of Parkland.”

The termination followed an emotional day for dozens of grieving students who visited the Florida Capitol, hoping to push gun control measures.

Sheryl Acquarola, a 16-year-old classmate of the two students who were attacked on social media, said Kelly’s comments were nothing close to the truth.

“They are not actors. They are not actors at all,” Acquarola said. “I’ve known Emma Gonzalez for years. She is one of my friends. She is one of the most genuine heartfelt speakers that I have ever met and she would never do anything for attention.”

When asked why she believed people working for elected officials would make such comments, she said it may be a defense mechanism.

“I feel like that’s a way of them trying to make themselves look like victims, like, ‘Oh, we are being attacked now.’ And yes, you are being attacked now, but it is for a reason,” Acquarola said.

As Parkland students call for gun control, motion to ban assault rifles fails

Clad in black, students who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting walked the halls of the Florida Capitol on Tuesday, going in and out of lawmakers’ offices asking them to pass gun control measures.

Each held a clipboard with their itinerary for the day and had a somber look on their face, still incredulous that bullets didn’t hit them — and that 15 of their classmates and two of their teachers were dead.

Because they survived, they say it is their duty to speak on behalf of those who did not.

Emily Smith, an 18-year-old senior at the high school, said she came to Tallahassee despite wanting to be with her family in the wake of yet another mass casualty incident in her life.

Smith was in Boston when bombs detonated at the marathon in 2013 and her father survived the Fort Lauderdale International Airport shooting last year. Last week, when Nikolas Cruz opened fire at her campus and killed 17 people, Smith was on her way to school.

She said a traffic delay may have saved her life.

“I’ve grown up watching it and I’m tired of nothing being done, and if I can be part of this and I can do something about it then there is no reason why I shouldn’t be here,” Smith said.

Rachel Catania, a sophomore at the high school who also is in Tallahassee this week, said her teacher pulled her inside a classroom when the shooting was active.

She hid in a corner for three hours, watching text messages from her mother flood into her cell phone, which was without service.

“She kept asking if I was OK, but I couldn’t answer,” Catania said.

These are some of the moments that have made these teenagers turn their grief into activism at the Legislature. Students say they are mostly in support of gun control measures.

Some of the bills the students support may not gain enough momentum to pass the Republican-controlled Legislature this session. With less than three weeks left in session, proposals made by Republicans that would boost mental health funding at schools and bolster campus security are getting support from leadership in both chambers.

House Democrats on Tuesday still tried to make some noise on the floor with a parliamentary move to rescue an assault rifle ban filed by Orlando Democrat Carlos G. Smith.

Democratic Leader-designate Kionne McGhee evoked a House rule to pull the bill (HB 219) out of the committee process, where it hasn’t been heard, in hopes of bringing it directly to the floor for debate and a vote.

The motion failed.

“I wasn’t surprised, but it was disheartening to watch 73 of those names on the board turn red,” said Sheryl Acquarola, a 16-year-old student from Parkland.

“It was overwhelming, but it is good because now their names are on the record and now we know who to vote out of office.”

Florida sheriffs propose more school resource officers, arming teachers with guns

Six days after the deadliest high school shooting in the state’s history, a law enforcement panel convened Tuesday in Tallahassee at Gov. Rick Scott’s request to discuss ideas that can prevent future campus massacres.

“I have a wife at home that won’t send our kids to school,” Coconut Creek Police Chief Albert “Butch” Arenal said. “The public is not going to tolerate anything less than security for their schools right now.”

After a two-hour morning discussion, several suggestions were made. The most popular ones: hiring more school resource officers, having more detailed background checks for gun buyers and making it harder for people committed under the Baker Act to get back access to their guns.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gaultieri said the state needs to have better background checks for gun buyers because they are currently “very limited and narrow in scope” and only serve to find a gun buyer’s “disqualifying crimes.”

Gaultieri added that police should have more power to seize weapons from people who are involuntarily examined under the Baker Act for making threatening statements against others and give them a “cooling-off” period.

“But if they feel they are stable and that they are not a threat, they can go to a psychologist, get a determination that they are not a threat and they can go to a judge and they can release them from exclusion,” Gaultieri said.

He used 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz as an example of someone who exhibited signs of mental illness since middle school and was still able to buy an AR-15 rifle, which he used to gun down 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“A person that shows to be a threat can be ‘Baker Acted’ 15 times and they can still go down to a local gun store and buy a gun,” Gaultieri said. “This kid could have been ‘Baker Acted’ and still been able to buy a gun.”

Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd, however, said the solution is arming teachers with guns and training them to protect students from active shooters.

“It’s not something that we want to do it, it is something we have to do if you want a game changer,” Judd said.

It remains to be seen if the proposals put forth by sheriffs and police officers from more than a dozen communities across the state will sway legislators as they scramble to come up with solutions with less than three weeks left in the 2018 Legislative Session. More so because what they are proposing will cost money.

Scott has yet to indicate what he will support. But he will skip a CNN Town Hall with Parkland students, parents and teachers to continue to attend these roundtable discussions on public safety, education and mental health in Tallahassee.

The governor, however, was not present in the morning panels. Scott’s office said he was attending a funeral in South Florida and that he would fly to the capital city to attend the panels in the afternoon.

Parkland students begin trip to Tallahassee in search of legislative action

Students who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas mass shooting are traveling to Tallahassee on Tuesday in search of legislative action that can prevent a future massacre like the one they experienced.

Meetings with Attorney General Pam Bondi, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Senate President Joe Negron and other legislative leaders have been set up for Wednesday, according to student group leader, Jaclyn Corin.

“This is not about Republicans or Democrats,” Corin said, “but about the 17 lives that we have lost — they will not die in vain.”

As of now, the teenager-led #NeverAgain movement is focused on lobbying four Senate bills: SB 1476, which could repeal a provision that does not allow state or local government agencies to keep track of privately-owned firearm; SB 838, which would require a three-day waiting period for private handgun sales; SB 196 that bans the sale and transfer of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines; and SB 1434, which would boost funding for mental health in schools.

The last bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, is the only one with Senate leadership backing. The other Democrat-championed bills eyed by the group of students are unlikely to move in the Republican-controlled Legislature.

“Our hope is that the Senate may have a Special Session in the future using our suggestions for new bills,” Corin said.

While students will be lobbying for these proposals, the next Senate president, Bill Galvano, is crafting legislation that would make it illegal for someone under 21 to buy an assault rifle and would impose a three-day waiting period for purchasing assault rifles. Negron has also said he intends to propose $100 million in mental health funding for schools.

As the Senate leads the conversation on proposals in wake of the mass shooting, the House has yet to hatch a concrete plan on what it seeks to do. While sources tell Florida Politics the efforts will likely mirror those being talked about in the Senate, Corcoran has been vague on what he wants to do.

“I look forward to working with the Governor and Senate to find solutions that fulfill the most fundamental mission of government — to keep our citizens — our children —safe,” Corcoran said.

As the student head to the Capital to march and talk to legislators, Leon County schools will excuse absences of students who wish to  participate in events occurring at the Capitol on Wednesday.

“I just want people to take action to fight for what they think needs to be done even if that’s only mental healthcare and no gun reform or just the opposite,” David Hogg, one of the students who survived, said.

“I don’t care how it’s done, I just know I don’t want to see anyone else die.”

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