Ana Ceballos, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 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.

‘Rooney out’ — Tom Rooney not running for re-election

Saying it is time to leave his seat and serve Florida in the future in a “different capacity,” U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney announced Monday he will not run for re-election in 2018.

The unexpected move opens up Florida’s 17th Congressional District this election year, a traditionally red district in the nation’s largest swing state.

“After what will be 10 years in the United States Congress representing the good people of Florida’s Heartland, it’s time to ‘hang em up’ as my old football coach used to say,” Rooney said in a statement.

Rooney was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2008 and currently serves as chairman of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Emerging Threats.

Just days ago, he told reporters that as parties fight over the Russian investigation tangling the Trump administration that the “level of trust is just gone.” Rooney added that issues related to funding and conducting oversight for intelligence agencies are “definitely” suffering.

Last week, Rooney had issued a detailed call for lawmakers to increase funding for several programs intended to keep schools safe in the wake of the shooting in Parkland.

“As I’ve thought about the Parkland shooting, it’s become clear to me we need to do more to prevent these tragedies. That’s why I am requesting increased funding to keep our schools safe,” he said on Twitter. “This is the time. Congress must act now.”

In his statement announcing his exit from Congress, he thanked constituents, colleagues and family for “unyielding friendship and loyalty.”

“Rooney out,” he added.

With Rooney out of the picture, rumors are swirling as to who will seek to run for his seat. One of those rumored to run is term-limited Republican state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who did not shut the door to the possibility.

“My focus right now is on the tremendous amount of work ahead of us in the final weeks of Session,” Benacquisto said. “There will be plenty of time to think about this after our work in Tallahassee is completed.”

Lehigh Acres Rep. Matt Caldwell and Sebring Sen. Denise Grimsley both said shortly after Rooney’s announcement that they were out. The pair are running in the Republican primary for Agriculture Commissioner . Other possible candidates include Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube and Sarasota County Sheriff Tom Knight.

CD 17 covers all of Charolotte, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands, and Okoeechobee counties, as well as parts of Polk, Sarasota and Lee.

The district voted 62-35 in favor of President Donald Trump in 2016 and Rooney’s successor is likely to emerge in a Republican Primary.

Richard Corcoran puts more money behind new immigration tv ad

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is doubling down on his tough-on-immigration talk with a new television ad that calls for more deportations.

The television ad is less incendiary than his first one, which was hcriticized by Democrats for portraying immigrants who came into the country illegally as a danger to Floridians.

Records show the new media buy will run at least on the CBS affiliate in Orlando — not Fox News, which was the focus of his first buy.

“President Trump is right, we need to end chain migration, ban sanctuary cities and deport criminal illegals,” Corcoran says in the ad.

Between 2016 and 2017, federal immigration agents deported 7,082 undocumented immigrants in the Miami responsibility area, which includes Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Of those deported, 51 percent were “noncriminal” deportations, meaning the subject did not have previous criminal convictions.

It remains unclear exactly how much money Corcoran spent to run the new ad. Taylor Budowich, a spokesman with Corcoran’s Watchdog Pac, declined to comment on it. But according his political committees’ expenditure reports, nearly $97,000 were dropped on a media placement buy on Feb. 14.

The move to air the ad in the wake of the Parkland high school mass shooting has already drawn some criticism from the Florida Democratic Party.

“While Floridians are demanding action to prevent gun violence, Richard Corcoran is still demonizing immigrants with divisive, fact-free TV ads,” FDP spokesman Kevin Donohoe said. “If Corcoran is serious about making Florida safer, he should start working to pass common sense gun control bills.”

Corcoran has yet to officially announce his run for Governor, but these ads continue to erase doubt that he will run once the 2018 Legislative Session ends. It also appears that immigration will be a core issue in his campaign.

Indicted Russians to pro-Trump groups: ‘If we lose Florida, we lose America’

Thirteen Russian nationals who posed as Americans in social media and courted pro-Trump political groups in Florida are accused of criminally interfering with the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, according to an indictment unsealed Friday.

The Justice Department’s special counsel announced the indictment against the group of Russian social media trolls and operatives on Friday. But prosecutors said the Russians’ effort to gather intel about U.S. politics began in 2014, and their target were “purple states.”

The indictment does not charge that Russian succeeded in swaying any votes, but it says Russians played a role in promoting President Donald Trump and making “derogatory” comments against Hillary Clinton. Their method was to use false U.S. personas to communicate with Trump campaign staff in local communities, including in Florida.

“The Russians also recruited and paid real Americans to engage in political activities from both political campaigns and staged political rallies. The defendants and their co-conspirators pretended to be grassroots activists,” prosecutors said.

Americans, however, did not know they were communicating with Russians, prosecutors add.

When the election was at its peak, there were a few instances in which Russians messed with pro-Trump groups in Florida and came into contact with Trump campaign officials in the state.

A “Florida Goes Trump!” event staged last August by the “Being Patriotic” page, which in the indictment is described as part of the Russians’ “conspiracy to defraud.” Trump’s Florida campaign manager, Susie Wiles, told Florida Politics these events were not part of the official campaign. “Florida Goes Trump!” also held Jacksonville events organized by Gary Snow, one of Trump’s most visible supporters.

The indictment also charges that Russians used social media accounts last November to promote a false voter fraud conspiracy theory in Broward County, alleging that tens of thousands of ineligible mail-in Clinton voter were being reported.

Prosecutors also said Russians paid two Americans at Florida pro-Trump rallies to “build a cage on a flatbed truck and wear a costume portraying Clinton in a prison uniform.”

Last August, Russians used the false U.S. persona “Matt Skiber” on Facebook to contact a Florida-based Trump supporter group, pushing for the group to organize a “YUGE pro-Trump flash mob in every Florida town.”

“Florida is a purple state and we need to paint it red,” the Russians wrote, “If we lose Florida, we lose America.”

Rick Scott

Gov. Rick Scott calls on FBI director to resign

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday called on FBI Director Christopher Wray to resign after the agency admitted to mishandling a January tip that the 19-year-old accused of gunning down 17 people in Parkland was potentially planning a school shooting.

“Seventeen innocent people are dead and acknowledging a mistake isn’t going to cut it,” Scott said. “An apology will never bring these 17 Floridians back to life or comfort the families who are in pain.”

The FBI received the tip on Jan. 5. It said the accused gunman, Nikolas Cruz, had a gun and wanted to kill people. The person also cited his erratic behavior, disturbing social media posts and signs that he may be plotting a school shooting, the FBI said in a statement.

The FBI acknowledged it got the tip but agents failed to connect it to Cruz, who police say has confessed to the massacre.

“The families will spend a lifetime wondering how this could happen, and an apology will never give them the answers they desperately need,” Scott said.

“We constantly promote ‘see something, say something,’ and a courageous person did just that to the FBI. And the FBI failed to act. ‘See something, say something’ is an incredibly important tool and people must have confidence in the follow through from law enforcement. The FBI Director needs to resign.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran piggybacked on Scott’s call for Wray — a President Donald Trump nominee — to resign.

“@FlGovScott is right, the FBI Director should resign immediately. 17 innocent lives were lost because the agency failed to follow protocol — that’s unacceptable,” Corcoran tweeted.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the tip falling through the crack is “more than just an error review,” but also about how federal investigation authorities respond to tips. Sessions ordered an “immediate review” on the Department of Justice and FBI tip process.

“We will make this a top priority,” Sessions said, “it has never been more important to encourage every person in every community to spot the warning signs and alert law enforcement.”

“Do not assume someone else will step up — all of us must be vigilant. Our children’s lives depend on it.”

Day after school shooting, Senate panel sets hearing for gun bill

A day after 17 people were gunned down at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Republican Sen. Greg Steube scheduled a hearing for a gun bill he is co-sponsoring that would allow school officials to designate certain people to carry concealed weapons on campus.

School principals and school district superintendents would be able to choose one or more people to bring concealed weapons to campus for security measures if they go through a criminal background check and training.

Under the bill (SB 1236)  filed by Sen. Dennis Baxley, the designee is not required to undergo a mental health evaluation, an issue that took center stage in the Senate in the wake of the mass shooting.

Senate President Joe Negron on Thursday said his focus is on boosting funding for mental health services and counseling at schools as well as campus security.

“In general, President Negron supports increased funding and resources for local school boards to enhance security in our schools,” said Katie Betta, a Senate spokeswoman. “This includes a local option to utilizing specially-trained school personnel to enhance security and keep our students safe.”

Betta, though, said that did not mean Negron was backing the bill. Negron’s top two lieutenants, Sens. Bill Galvano and Wilton Simpson, however, are opposed to the bill moving forward, according to POLITICO Florida.

The bill is up for consideration next Tuesday in Senate Judiciary, which has blocked gun legislation in the past because of two deciding Republican votes: Rene Garcia and Anitere Flores. Most recently the two Miami Republicans were wary of another gun bill sponsored by Baxley, which would in certain cases allow guns in religious institution with schools attached to them.

A companion bill in the House, sponsored by Republican state Rep. Bob Rommel, is in its second of three committee stops before it can hit the full floor.

In wake of Parkland shooting, Senate focuses on mental health funding

As the country grapples with the aftermath of a high school mass shooting in Broward County, Senate President Joe Negron said Thursday the upper chamber will be focused on boosting funding for mental health and campus security — not gun control.

“I think that the key for me — and what I am focusing on — is making sure that people who have mental instabilities or mental health issues don’t have access to firearms,” Negron told reporters.

When asked about measures that have stalled in the Legislature that would limit access to semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity magazines, Negron said that is not the Senate’s focus. The suspected gunman, Nikolas Cruz, was armed with an AR-15 rifle that was legally purchased in the state.

“My focus is on making sure that lawful citizens who are obeying the law and are entitled to their constitutional rights have appropriate access to firearms,” he said.

Offering their “thoughts and prayers” for the victims, incoming Senate President Bill Galvano and Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson echoed Negron’s priorities and said he is asking senators to support an $100 million in funding for mental health screening, counseling and training, and the “hardening” of Florida schools.

“It’s imperative that a portion of this allocation goes toward ensuring that we have the necessary number of armed resource officers at our schools across Florida,” Galvano said. “We must identity where the gaps exist and immediately work to fill them.”

“Sen. Galvano and I have had some preliminary discussions about that,” Senate Appropriations Committee chair Rob Bradley said Thursday. “Right now, the Senate is at $40 million … reorienting monies to make that higher is something we need to take seriously. Our school facilities should be appropriately hardened.”

When asked about state gun control legislation, he added: “The federal government has restrictions on a lot of these specific types of weapons … It’s a 50-state problem. But there should not be any sacred cows. OK?

“I’m a strong Second Amendment supporter. I always have been. I believe it is a fundamental right under the Constitution. But I also think the Constitution does not guarantee a mentally ill person the right to have a weapon.”

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel said there was an armed officer on duty at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School at the time of the deadly shooting, but the officer never encountered the suspect.

“We are working today to immediately identify and direct funding to hardening our schools and provide for armed resource officers on every campus for safety and prevention,” Simpson said.

Meanwhile, legislation that would have loosened the application process for concealed weapon permits has snarled in the Senate due to the “timing” and “sensitivity” of the recent tragedy, Negron said.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam   who has called himself a “proud NRA sellout”  worked to tuck language into an agriculture-related bill that would allow permits to be processed even when there is an incomplete background check on a person.

The proposal was scheduled for a hearing Thursday, but was postponed due to the shooting. Whether it will be heard again, Negron said, is up to the bill sponsor, Sen. Kelli Stargel.

As Senate leadership pushes for these issues, a bipartisan group of House members has sent a letter to House Speaker Richard Corcoran asking to match the funding proposed by the chamber that would go to school safety and mental health services.

“Currently, the Senate has proposed that the Safe Schools allocation be increased by about $14 million while in the House no increase is being proposed within the current budget,” the letter states. “In addition, the Senate has proposed $40 million toward mental health for schools, while the House has proposed no specific appropriations for mental health care in schools.”

Capital correspondent Jim Rosica contributed to this post.

House passes bill that would allow certain minors to wed

Moving away from an outright ban on all underage marriages, the Florida House on Wednesday sent the Senate a proposal that would allow certain minors to wed in cases when there is a pregnancy.

“I believe this bill will put Florida in the forefront of putting [a] safeguard in place and protecting children,” said state Rep. Jeanette Nunez, who led the effort in the House. “This absolutely ends the horrors of child marriage.”

With overwhelming support, the House voted to change current state law to make it illegal for marriage licenses to be issued to all minors under the age of 16. But members still voted to permit 16- and 17-year-olds to wed in cases where there is pregnancy and the partner is no more than two years older than the minor.

The Senate was looking to ban all underage marriages.

Under the House proposal, minors get pregnant and are at least 16 years old can get married with parental consent — unless parents of both minors have died or if the minors were previously married. Nunez said marriage licenses issued to minors outside of Florida would be honored.

The House also got rid of language that would have required a paternity test before a marriage license could be issued to a minor. Critics said this could potentially trap minors into marrying their rapists.

Only two Republican state representatives voted against the measure, George Moraitis and Julio Gonzalez. They thought it went too far and that older teens should have the option to marry in cases when there is no pregnancy involved, adding that it a decision that should be “put in the hands of a family.”

“What is true love? I don’t mean that romantically … I mean finding a partner that is going to carry you for the rest of your life,” Gonzalez said, “is it true that you can find it in a 17-year-old that is not pregnant?”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has said he is in support of permitting some minors to wed because it would give “high school sweethearts” the option to tie the knot if they want.

Richard Corcoran, Andrew Gillum clash during immigration debate

After weeks of tweeting back and forth on the issue of immigration, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and House Speaker Richard Corcoran debated face-to-face on Tuesday and clashed sharply on the topic — as predicted.

The 45-minute debate largely focused on two things: HB 9, a bill that seeks to punish local officials who do not fully comply with federal immigration authorities, and a controversial television ad ran by Corcoran that depicts immigrants who are in the country illegally as a danger to Floridians.

The debate often times got stuck on one thing: diction. Gillum defended his use of “undocumented immigrants,” arguing an immigrant is illegal aims to “dehumanize” a person. The Land O’Lakes Republican, however, viewed it differently.

“You keep saying undocumented immigrants,” Corcoran said, “but there is nothing undocumented about them — they are illegal.”

At one point, Gillum put Corcoran’s nationality in question, pointing out that he was born in Canada.

“I’m a natural-born American citizen,” Corcoran said. “To say I’m an immigrant is you playing politics and using perjoratives in the worst possible way.”

“It’s good to say you are an immigrant,” Gillum responded.

The splintering over the issue highlighted their polar opposite stances on immigration that feed their base supporters and on Tuesday gave politicians what they need the most: attention. A recent poll shows the vast majority of voters do not recognize their names.

Also discussed during the debate was the 30-second video by Corcoran’s political committee, titled “Preventable,” which opens by alluding to the high-profile 2015 killing of Kathryn Steinle along Pier 14 in the Embarcadero district of San Francisco. The video depicts a bearded man in a hoodie pointing and firing a handgun directly at a woman walking the sidewalk of a suburban community.

A voice-over by Corcoran states: “A young woman, gunned down by an illegal immigrant who should’ve been deported but was protected by a sanctuary city.”

The video then fades to Corcoran, who is in his final House term and has said he’s waiting until after the Legislative session to make an announcement regarding his political future, who makes Steinle’s story personal.

When he heard of Steinle’s death, “I thought about my own daughter Kate,” Corcoran, a father of six, says in the video.

“Incredibly, some Tallahassee politicians want to make Florida a sanctuary state,” Corcoran, shown with his arm draped around Kate’s shoulders, says. “On my watch, Florida will never be a sanctuary state.”

Gillum on Tuesday took offense at the depiction of the killer in Corcoran’s video, highlighting the significance of the dark-skinned, hoodie-wearing villain.

As moderator Gary Fineout pointed out, a jury found Jose Ines Garcia Zanate not guilty of second-degree murder charges in Steinle’s death. Garcia Zanate said he found the gun on the pier and that it accidentally went off. Authorities confirmed the bullet ricocheted off the ground before striking Steinle.

“The truth is, this ad is a gross misrepresentation of what took place,” Gillum said.

The use of the gray hoodie was particularly offensive, Gillum said, “as if that point would be lost on any of us in the same state where Trayvon Martin was killed, for wearing a hoodie.”

After the debate, Corcoran told reporters his teenage son’s garb was the inspiration for the hoodie.

Gillum asked Corcoran, who referred to the mayor as “Gillum,” to apologize for the video and take it down.

Corcoran showed no contrition.

Corcoran has not yet announced his run for governor, but if $1.4 million media buys, meetings with Roger Stone and debates with a Democrat running for governor are any indication, he is more than likely in the race by the time the 2018 Legislative Session ends.

“The Speaker clearly has an intent of appealing to a very small slice of the Republican primary voter for a race that he has yet to determine that he wants to enter,” Gillum said.

During his closing remarks, Corcoran repeated a common theme, calling his position “a common-sense, right-minded policy.”

“If you remember one single thing from this debate, here’s what I would ask you to remember,” Corcoran said, knocking three times on the podium. “Nobody, nobody in this state should ever have a law enforcement officer knock on their door and tell them their son or their daughter has been killed by an illegal immigrant who had sanctuary status in the city, a completely and utterly needless and unnecessary death. … I will fight and continue to fight in this legislative session, or in any capacity I can, to ensure that no parent has to have that knock on the door. Whatever it is, I have to do to do that, I will do it.”

Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.

House panel advances bill adding protections to cellphone searches

A House proposal that would change the way law enforcement officers get their hands on data from a person’s cellphone was pushed on Tuesday to its last committee assignment.

Republican state Rep. Jamie Grant said his bill (HB 1249) would require police to “reflect constitutional due process” when they search a person’s phone-location records as well as data from microphone-enabled household devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home.

“At the founding of our country the Fourth Amendment is the most important protection and technology has made it more challenging,” said Republican state Rep. Cord Byrd, who chairs the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee where the bill was last heard.

With no questions or debate, and the Public Defenders Association and Florida Smart Justice Alliance waiving in support, the measure passed unanimously. Now it heads to the Judiciary Committee, where Grant said there will be an opportunity to further discuss tweaks in policy to the bill.

Under the House bill, law enforcement officers would need probable cause and a court-issued warrant to search a person’s cellular device. Officers would need to install a mobile-tracking device within 10 days of obtaining the warrant and would only have access to the location data for 45 days, unless the court grants an extension for the search.

The measure also would widen the scope of activity in which a person can be charged for accessing another person’s phone without permission. Under the bill, reading emails or emails on another person’s phone or laptop without permission would be a crime.

If someone accesses a phone’s data without permission for the purpose of destroying the data or commercial gain, it could be punishable by up to a year in county jail.

House staff analysis said the state prison population would “insignificantly” increase.

The companion bill (SB 1256) in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, has also been moving along in the upper chamber. Both measures differ in that Brandes’ bill would offer protections to businesses that access information from an electronic device if the data “prevents identification of the user of the device.”

Brandes’ bill is up for consideration Wednesday in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Jeanette Nunez seeks to amend Senate bill that bans all child marriages

There’s a rift between the Florida House and Senate over a bill that could ban outright all marriages for minors in the state, and that will become more pronounced on Wednesday when the lower chamber takes up the matter.

House members will consider the child marriage bill (SB 140) passed by the Senate, but with an amendment that would allow some minors to marry in cases when a pregnant minor is at least 16 years old. The partner would have to be no more than two years older.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has said this provision would allow “high school sweethearts” to marry, but critics say it could trap a minor into a marriage in which the partner is an adult and has more legal advantages than the minor.

“Sixteen-year-olds are still children. It is important that anyone that enters a marriage enters in equal footing,” said Ryan Wiggins, the representative for Sherry Johnson, who was forced to marry her rapist at the age of 11.

“It would be bad governance to allow (minors) to enter a marriage where they can end up trapped,” Wiggins added.

Legislation proposing a strict ban on all minor marriages passed the Senate unanimously, with the upper chamber as a co-sponsor. Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto has been a vocal sponsor of the measure and has been featured in national news stories as her proposal would make Florida the first state in the nation to have such a ban.

The House, however, has been more conservative on the matter and has inserted religion into the debate. Some members argue that a baby born out of wedlock is a concern for many Floridians and that there should be some flexibility for older teens who get pregnant. Others, like state Rep. George Moraitis, said a ban could push minors to seek “different” options, alluding to abortion.

To appease some of the concerns from House members, Republican state Rep. Jeanette Nunez has filed a strike-all amendment to Benacquisto’s bill that would allow a court to issue a marriage license to 16- and 17-year-olds if the partner is no more than two years older. Nunez is the sponsor of the child marriage bill in the House.

Her House bill includes a paternity test as a requirement to issue the marriage license, but Nunez’s amendment to the Senate bill would get rid of that mandate. However, the couple would still require a written statement from a licensed physician to verify the pregnancy.

Under the proposal, all minors under 16 would be banned for getting married, which under certain circumstances is legal under current state law.

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