Ana Ceballos, Author at Florida Politics - Page 7 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.

Human trafficking bill allowing victims to sue hotels moves ahead

Legislation that would allow human trafficking victims to sue hotels and other businesses that turned a blind eye to the abuse moved forward in the Senate on Monday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Lauren Book, intends to give victims more litigation power to recoup economic damages as well as cost for their medical and mental health expenses they amassed following their time of abuse.

“We can’t stop all these crimes from occurring, but it would be my hope that in an ecosystem like a hotel, there are people spotting and reporting those things to help those individuals,” Book said.

In cases where human trafficking is going on in a hotel, the bill provides language that protects business from lawsuits if employees are trained to recognize the signs of trafficking and if management has a plan set up to report suspicious activity.

Sens. Rene Garcia and Doug Broxson both had concerns that the measure could sprout “frivolous lawsuits” as an unintended consequences and that attorneys.

“My concern — my biggest fear — is that sometimes some of these women are going through such atrocities and they can be used as pawns for frivolous lawsuits,” Garcia said. “They should not be victimized again.”

During the debate four women testified to the panel that they were trafficked for sex. One of them, Connie Rose, said she was “raped 10, 20, 30, 40 times a day.”

“Hotels play a tremendous part in this,” she said, “is it really too much to ask of hotels and motels and the tourism industry? Hotels need to be accountable for what happened to me.”

The state’s Department of Children and Families in 2016 received close to 2,000 human trafficking complaints, a 50-percent uptick from the previous years.

Under the bill, traffickers who are taken to court would have to pay $50,000 to state human trafficking trust fund that aims to help victims and funds education for the public on how to recognize the signs of trafficking. The fine was slashed in half Monday after the bill was amended by the Senate Committee of Children, Families and Elder Affairs.

As amended, the bill now heads to the Rules Committee, its last committee stop before it can hit the full floor. The effort in the House has stalled, though. The House bill, sponsored by state Rep. Ross Spano, was temporarily postponed in its last committee stop early this month.

State, voting rights group disagree on how to handle clemency process

In response to a federal judge saying that the Florida’s voting rights restoration process is unconstitutional, the state’s legal team said Monday the state’s clemency board should fix its flaws — not the courts.

State Solicitor General Amit Agarwal argued that U.S. District Judge Mark Walker should not issue any corrective orders, saying “there is no reason to upend the state’s constitutional and statutory framework.”

Rather, the Board of Executive Clemency itself should come up with a system that meets constitutional muster.

Fair Election Legal Network, the group that sued the state for running a system that “hinders former felons from truly reentering society,” disagreed.

The national voting rights group said the court should order the state to restore the voting rights of former felons after “any waiting period of a specific duration of time” set forth by the state or the board.

Currently, that waiting period is five years after completing their sentences. Except for those convicted of murder or a sex offenses; they must wait seven years.

The legal teams of both groups filed their briefs with Walker, who had ordered them to submit briefs to find a remedy for the system’s deficiencies.

“An injunction requiring (the state) to affirmatively act to create a new vote-restoration procedure would be inappropriate,” the state argued.

Federal courts, it added, “cannot issue an order that is tantamount to saying ‘act right.’ ”

Scott has helped shape the current voter-restoration system which requires all felons to wait at least five years after they serve their sentences to apply to have their voting rights restored.

The clemency board that oversees a felon’s case consists of Scott and the three members of the Florida Cabinet—Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Attorney General Pam Bondi and state CFO Jimmy Patronis. The governor, however, does have sole power to reject an application.

It can take years for the board to hear a case and currently the state has a backlog of more than 10,000 cases, which could cost taxpayers $500,000 to fix next year if the Legislature approves it.

The state of Florida is home to about 1.5 million citizens who cannot cast a vote.

As the legal fight continues in court, Floridians will be able to cast their own ballot in November to decide whether ex-felons should have their voting rights automatically restored.

A citizen initiative to add a “Voting Restoration Amendment” to the state constitution needs 60 percent approval. If it passes, the amendment could have wide-ranging political implications in the nation’s largest swing state.

Gov. Rick Scott to sign state-funded pro-life clinics into law

Gov. Rick Scott‘s office said Monday the governor is expected to sign into a law a bill that would permanently set aside millions in taxpayer money to operate pro-life clinics in Florida, a concept that critics call “fake” clinics.

The Republican-controlled Senate passed the bill last week, with Democrats opposed.

When the bill becomes law, it will codify an anti-abortion program run by the private Florida Pregnancy Care Network that has been in place for over a decade. That network will receive $4 million in state funds every year to give pregnant women free pro-birth services. Women can continue receiving services at the clinic a year after their children are born.

The underlying policy in the bill would allow faith-based organizations to be among the service providers in the program.

“I am not in favor of giving faith-based materials to a woman who is facing the most difficult decision in their life,” Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer said during the Senate floor debate.

“I am a true believer of a separation between church and state.”

Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernardina Republican led the effort in the Senate and adopted the House version of the bill.

“Yeah, (the clinics) are about life and about having that baby, but they are also about giving support where it didn’t exist before,” said Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Republican leading the effort in the Senate.

As Florida politicians focus on immigration, state leads in ICE arrests

As immigration takes center stage in Florida politics — with some Republicans calling on local authorities to fully comply with federal immigration authorities — a new report shows the state is leading the nation in Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrests.

Florida is dominating the nation in immigration arrests due to a significant uptick in “non-criminal” detentions, a pattern mirrored across the country during the 2017 fiscal year.

“The overall number of immigration arrests made by ICE in 2017 varied around the U.S., and the most arrests did not always occur in areas close to the U.S.-Mexico border or in places with the largest unauthorized immigrant populations,” according to a Pew Research Center report.

Between 2016 and 2017, federal immigration agents arrested 6,192 unauthorized immigrants in Florida, 30 percent of whom had no criminal convictions.

When it comes to deportations, half of those who were sent back to their countries of origin were not facing criminal charges or had a criminal background in the U.S., data shows.

Under President Barack Obama, ICE focused its enforcement efforts more narrowly by prioritizing arrests on those convicted of serious crimes. The report states there is a “growing emphasis by federal authorities on interior enforcement efforts,” such as the deal struck with 17 Florida sheriffs.

As a crackdown on immigration takes place in a state that has long acted as a magnet for immigrants, an election year is turning up the volume on the issue.

In a poll released Monday, a quarter of Republican voters listed immigration as the most important problem facing Florida. The same poll showed that only 14 percent of Democrats believe the issue to be on the same scale of importance.

Politicians — and those who are widely expected to run — have been quick to use immigration at the forefront of their campaigns.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has spent nearly $1.5 million on a controversial “sanctuary cities” TV ad portraying all immigrants as a danger to Floridians and has prioritized legislation that would threaten local officials who do not fully comply with immigration authorities with removal from office or hefty fines.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum has called Corcoran’s stance on immigration “race-baiting” and will debate the likely Republican gubernatorial candidate in Tallahassee.

Florida’s biggest spending plan ever ready for final negotiations

The Florida House and Senate on Thursday passed their spending plans differing by only about $100 million — a tenth of a percent of the roughly $87 billion proposed by each chamber.

The starting point for final budget negotiations on what is the largest proposed budget in state history is more than a week ahead of schedule, Senate President Joe Negron said. And though he says money differences are not that big, clashes over the environment, health and education remain.

A plan by House GOP leadership to “link” the education sub-section to a “conforming” bill laden with new policy has roiled the chamber’s budget. That includes a proposal to create a new scholarship for students who are bullied in public schools to go to private school.

The two are so intertwined that Hialeah Republican Manny Diaz, chair of the PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, admitted that if that bill (HB 7055) failed, legislators would have to start from scratch to craft a new lower education sub-budget.

Negron told reporters on Thursday that he would prefer the House move its education bill — a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran — “through the traditional process” and not through the budget as a conforming bill.

“It would be preferable to refer it to the appropriate committees,” Negron said, “but the larger picture is that many proposals in the bill enjoy the support of the Senate … the majority of the Senate is promoting school choice.”

House Democrats have complained that the education bill would violate the state constitution’s “single subject” rule, which requires that “every law shall embrace but one subject and matter properly connected therewith, and the subject shall be briefly expressed in the title.”

For example, Democratic Leader-designate Kionne McGhee and others rapped the bill for having a 12-page title.

He actually spent about 10 minutes just listing off all the headings of the provisions in the bill. “We’re laying down a record for the (state) Supreme Court to review this bill,” said McGhee, an attorney.

Miami Beach Democratic Rep. David Richardson, a forensic auditor known for his detailed budget analysis, tried to amend the budget to cut the link to HB 7055, calling it “a bad precedent.”

No surprise: That move was eventually shot down on a party-line vote. But the bill passed on a 66-43 vote.

Over in the Senate, the budget debate sailed through the chamber with a 33-1 vote.

The proposal sets aside $3.4 billion in total reserves and appropriates $21.1 billion for the state’s K-12 and higher education systems.

Next week, the process to schedule budget conference meetings will begin to reach a final agreement on the 2018-19 budget.

“We are close in amount, so that makes life a lot easier,” Negron said.

Roger Stone: Richard Corcoran is ‘bold enough to win’ Florida governor’s race

Infamous Republican political operative Roger Stone gave House Speaker Richard Corcoran his vocal support on Thursday saying he is “bold enough to win” the GOP gubernatorial primary if he decides to run.

“I have no plans to support a candidate immediately but it’s very clear to me that Corcoran does have a path to the governorship and that his potential candidacy has to be taken very seriously,” Stone told Florida Politics.

The Trump adviser met with Corcoran on Wednesday in downtown Tallahassee and said the two had a “cordial” meeting. Stone was curious to meet Corcoran and once he did, he said he was “very, very impressed” with the House Speaker.

Corcoran has stirred speculation about his run for Governor for months and in this time has been a supported policy that often mirrors Donald Trump’s ideals. Trump, however, dropped a bomb on the Florida governor’s race last December when he endorsed U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis before he was a declared candidate.

A Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy poll released this week shows Corcoran trailing declared candidates Adam Putnam and DeSantis. Putnam narrowly led Desantis 27 percent to 23 percent.

Corcoran ran last with 7 percent of the support with his main hurdle being name recognition. Seventy percent of those polled did not recognize his name, something Stone could boost with an endorsement — or even vocal support.

“Corcoran is a solid guy, strong on the issues that will dominate the primary and bold enough to win,” Stone said.

The Land O’Lakes Republican plans to announce whether he will run after the 2018 Legislative Session.

Republicans advance bill banning certain abortions, welcome court challenges

A House bill that would do away with the “most commonly performed” method of abortion in Florida was advanced on Wednesday, with some Republicans welcoming challenges in court if it is deemed unconstitutional upon passage.

The chances of the bill passing this Session, however, are unlikely. The companion bill in the Senate has yet to hold a hearing.

But the controversial proposal, HB 1429, is still moving ahead in the House and cleared its second of three committee assignments on Wednesday, where it drew criticism from Democrats and an American Civil Liberties Union representative.

“This tramples on women’s rights to access the safest and most commonly used method of abortion during the second trimester,” said Kara Gross with the ACLU.

Under the bill, introduced by Republican Rep. Erin Grall, physicians would face a third-degree felony if they use tools, such as clamps and thongs, during the dilation and evacuation abortion procedure unless a woman’s life is in danger.

The proposal opened up a heated debate that ranged from Republican Rep. George Moraitis calling the procedure a baby “execution” to Democratic state Rep. Cynthia Stafford saying terminating a pregnancy is a decision between a “woman and her god, not a woman and her government.”

“This is not going to result in changing existing practices because we have an independent judiciary and rule of law that protects the rights of people — yes, even women  in our society,” Democratic Rep. Joseph Geller said.

Republican Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen supported the measure, but urged lawmakers to push harder to give women greater access to reproductive education and birth control so they “don’t find themselves in these situations.”

Several other states have passed legislation similar to the one proposed by Grall this year. These laws have opened the states up to challenges in court. That worried some Republicans who helped advance the measure.

That included Rep. Scott Plakon who was disturbed that a “big move to protect lobsters” would get more support than a bill that would “protect a sentient being from feeling pain during a procedure performed by monsters.”

“God help us that this is going on,” Plakon said, “let’s vote yes and find out what the courts will say on this. I would consider it money well spent to go through the courts.”

Gross said taxpayers would end up footing the bill in litigation costs for the “Legislature’s insistence on passing unconstitutional legislation.”

Florida Democrats want Roger Stone, Richard Corcoran meeting canceled

Hours after political provocateur Roger Stone said he would like to meet House Speaker Richard Corcoran — a likely gubernatorial candidate — Florida Democrats called on him to cancel the meeting.

“Roger Stone is a racist, sexist conspiracy theorist and Richard Corcoran is debasing the office of the Speaker of the House by meeting with him,” said Kevin Donohoe, the Florida Democratic Party spokesman.

Stone did not take kindly to being called a “racist” and said the “Florida Democratic Party is the Party of the KKK and segregation.”

“I worked for the President who desegregated the public schools and gave us Affirmative Action as well as the President who brought African American unemployment to the lowest level in U.S. history,” Stone said in a statement.

While Corcoran has not yet announced he will run, he has been acting like a candidate more and more. From dropping nearly $1 million on a television ad to agreeing to debate a declared Democratic gubernatorial candidate, the Roger Stone meeting is just the latest to stir speculation about his running.

Donohoe said the Land O’Lakes Republican should be condemning Stone’s “bigoted paranoia — not embracing it.”

“Corcoran should immediately cancel this reported meeting and make clear that Stone’s extreme, hateful politics have no place in our state.”

Taylor Budowich, a spokesman for Corcoran’s political committee, declined to comment. But Stone did so Wednesday while giving a paid speech at the Capital Tiger Bay Club in Tallahassee.

“I’ve never met him and I’m curious to meet him,” Stone said. “He’s one of the candidates for governor who I don’t know.”

Senator’s proposal to boost funding for clemency case backlog withdrawn

As the Senate motored through a long list of budget amendments on Wednesday, a proposal to boost funding to deal with the mounting clemency case backlog was tossed.

Sen. Darryl Rouson, a Pinellas County Democrat, withdrew his own amendment, which would have given the Florida Commission on Offender Review $500,000 in ongoing state funds to tackle its 10,000-plus clemency case backlog. The Senate is proposing the same amount in its 2018-19 spending plan, but as a one-time, nonrecurring sum.

“If anyone of these citizens wants to earn back their fundamental right to express themselves in government, they must plod through a gauntlet of constitutionally infirm hurdles,” Rouson said. “The federal court said no more.”

Rouson’s proposal comes after a federal court ruled last week that the state’s voter-restoration process for ex-felons is unconstitutional.

Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has helped shape the system in which political bias usually determines whether an ex-felon can have their voting rights restored, according to the court ruling prompted by a lawsuit against the state.

Since Scott was elected in 2011, there have been 2,976 felons granted clemency. Rouson told senators that number has “plummeted” since Scott took office.

“As the body of the Senate we should make a strong statement before November that we care about restoring the rights of those who have paid their debt, done their time and deserve through redemption an opportunity to participate in the process,” he said.

In November, Floridians will have the chance to vote on a ballot initiative that could automatically restore the voting rights of 1.5 million citizens, a move that could impact the political climate in the nation’s largest swing state.

“I cannot tell you the number of times I have campaigned, like you have, knocked on doors and met people in community halls who said ‘I wish I could vote but my rights have not been restored,” Rouson said.

Pre-arrest diversion program bill clears House panel with lingering concerns

Pinellas County lawmakers are hoping to implement a pre-arrest diversion program in their county across the state, but on Tuesday some lawmakers in the House opposed the measure because they fear violent offenders may slip through the cracks.

“If there’s an Achilles’ heel with the bill it could be the notion that violent offenders could be caught in the citation process,” Republican state Rep. Jay Fant said.

The Attorney General hopeful said a “friendly no vote” on the bill will hopefully  “underscore the fact that this is a serious” concern of his as it moves forward in the process. The measure cleared the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee in the end, with Fant and Rep. Joe Gruters voting against it.

Other lawmakers viewed the proposal by Rep. Larry Ahern of Pinellas County as a step toward improving the state’s criminal justice system.

Under the bill, two separate pre-arrest diversion programs would be created in each judicial circuit in the state. One for adults and one for juveniles. The goal would be to give some misdemeanor offenders community service before they are pushed through the criminal justice system.

“It is important that we begin the framework for helping our bills be bills that uphold parts of the law and also provide provisions that can help the criminal justice process be a better process,” state Rep. Sharon Pritchett said.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement would need to adopt rules under the bill that would expunge the non-judicial arrest record of a juvenile who completes the diversion program.

Adults and juveniles who do not successfully complete the program would be referred back to the arresting law enforcement agency which would determine if they should face prosecution for the crime committed.

State Rep. Kathleen Peters, a Republican from Pinellas County, said there are “unintended consequences” that could come with the bill if there is no consistency with the mandates.

Under the bill, local agencies can continue to operate their independent diversion program if it was operating before the bill was implemented, and if it is determined that the state attorney of that circuit will have a similar program developed to comply with state law.

“When we did this in our county, we had all different cities doing different citations and people don’t know the boundaries of the other cities,” Peters said. “Having no consistency is problematic.”

Ahern said the goal of his bill, HB 1197, is to create “uniformity” by implementing diversion programs statewide that give local law enforcement agencies “guidelines” rather than mandates on how to operate their programs. His bill now heads to its last committee stop.

A companion bill (SB 1392) in the Senate, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, has two more committees before it can hit the full floor.

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