Ana Ceballos, Author at Florida Politics - Page 8 of 9

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.

Lawmakers clash over financing for trafficking victims

Rep. Ross Spano wants the state to create a trust fund for human trafficking victims, which would be financed by half of the punitive damages traffickers are ordered to pay in court cases.

Money from the trust fund would then go to pay for human trafficking prevention programs, medical and mental health examinations and treatments for victims, establishing safe houses and assisting law enforcement coordinate with service providers, among other things.

Under the bill backed by Spano, a Dover Republican, half the punitive damages collected in cases brought forth by human trafficking victims would be funneled into the fund.

That provision, however, didn’t sit well with two of the 15 members of the House Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee.

“It just concerns me a little bit that 50 percent of the punitive damages award is going to the trust fund just by the operation (of) statute,” said Rep. Sean Shaw, a lawyer and Tampa Democrat.

“I don’t know if that percentage is what bothers me, or if philosophically any percentage would bother me, but I will come talk to you about it,” he added.

Rep. George Moraitis, a Fort Lauderdale Republican, said it was “shameful” the Legislature would have to resort to taking punitive damages awarded to a victim’s case instead of appropriating money to the trust fund, which he supports.

“If these are the right things to do, then we should be doing these and not depending on court cases and punitive damages,” Moraitis said.

Rep. James Grant, a Tampa Republican, said he is very much in favor of the bill’s financing approach: “I love the structure,” he said.

“Punitive damages were created for the communities’ benefit; they were not created for the purpose of compensating the victim, that’s what compensatory damages are for,” Grant said.

Spano said the legislation, and its funding mechanism, is meant to compensate victims that have no avenue for recovery.

The measure cleared the panel unanimously. It now has two more committees before it can head to the House floor.

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In child marriage debate, some want flexibility with older teens

As lawmakers in both the House and the Senate push for a strict ban on minors getting married, some legislators in the House said Wednesday they would like to keep judicial discretion when older teenagers want to legally wed.

“I do not support the part where someone who is pregnant can’t get married just because they are under 18,” said Rep. George Moraitis, a Fort Lauderdale Republican.

Republican Reps. Jeanette Nuñez and Frank White filed HB 335 hoping to outlaw marriages for anyone under the age 18 to protect children who are forced into marrying their perpetrators. The bill cleared the House Civil Justice & Claims Subcommittee on Wednesday.

“Just to simply say no one under 18 can get married – there’s a lot of things you can do when you’re under 18, such as drive – so I just don’t agree with that,” Moraitis said.

Moraitis, however, does support banning marriages between minors who are 16 and 17 if the only thing a judge is going by is parental consent.

Republican Rep. Erin Grall agreed with Moraitis, saying she would not want to eliminate judicial discretion in certain cases.

“Especially under certain circumstances, maybe where you have two 17-year-olds who may want to get married,” Grall said. “I would hope there would be some conversations about the older teenagers as the bill moves forward.”

Rep. John Cortes, a Kissimmee Democrat, said he was voting in favor of the ban to “hopefully put a stop to human trafficking” and pedophilia.

Nuñez said the case of a 10-year-old girl who was raped, became pregnant and then the following year was forced to marry her rapist, inspired her to fight for this effort.

She said that in Florida, there have been 1,800 marriage licenses issued in the last five years in which at least one individuals was a minor.

“Florida is estimated to be No. 2 for child marriages in the country,” Nuñez said. “That is unacceptable.”

Under current state law, judges can issue a marriage license to minors of any age if they have a child or are expecting a child. The law also allows a judge to allow a minor female to marry an adult man if she is pregnant.

The law now also allows minors ages 16 and 17 to get married with their parents’ approval.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, has filed a bill banning minor marriages in the Senate.

Bill mandating financial-literacy class for students advances

A years-long battle in the Legislature to pass a bill requiring high school students take a course teaching them how to manage money is back again.

Sen. Dorothy Hukill‘s bill, though, had a small victory on Wednesday. SB 88 advanced the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on pre-K-12 Education, leaving one more committee stop before it can head to the Senate floor for consideration.

Hukill, a Port Orange Republican, has introduced the proposal since 2013, but it keeps dying.

“This is the most popular bill — I get stopped in the supermarket for this bill, and I don’t get stopped for many bills,” Hukill said. “So why doesn’t it pass? People think it is going to take away their musical, or take away their art (electives).”

Under the bill, the class would teach students how to manage debt, understand credit scores, apply for loans, compute interest rates and analyze simple contracts. They would need to take the course before they can graduate high school.

Although the bill would reduce the number of elective credits from eight to seven and a half, Hukill said that still leaves students enough time to take elective courses. The one-half credit would be set aside for the financial literacy course.

If the bill becomes law, the state would become the sixth in the nation to require the stand-alone course in personal finance literacy.

According to staff analysis, school districts may incur costs ranging from $131,000 to $8.8 million in the first year of implementing the requirements. Those costs calculates teacher training and new textbook requirements.

Miami, Miami Beach voters elect new mayors

In what came as little surprise on a busy election night in Miami-Dade County, voters overwhelmingly picked two new mayors.

In Miami Beach, with 21 of 24 precincts reporting, Dan Gelber got 82 percent of the 10,726 votes.

Gelber, a 56-year-old criminal defense attorney who served in the Legislature from 2000-10, will replace Mayor Philip Levine. He also was House Democratic Leader in 2006-08.

Levine decided not to run for re-election, and instead announced last week a bid for the governor’s mansion.

Levine praised the way Gelber ran his campaign, adding his office is ready to have a “smooth transition from one administration to the next.”

“I’m honored that my hometown has trusted me with this office,” Gelber said in a statement. “I intend to work every day to earn that trust and keep our city a special place.”

As the polls closed Tuesday, results rolled in for the Miami mayoral race – and Francis Suarez was the winner.

Suarez, the son of former Miami Mayor Xavier Suarez, got 85 percent of the 23,451 votes, with 93 of 127 precincts reporting.

Bill that would bring gun dealers into ‘modern age’ advances

A proposal that would give firearm dealers the option to use credit cards when paying for potential buyers’ background checks advanced a Senate committee on Tuesday.

Gun advocates praised the bill and said the move would “bring us into the modern age.”

“This is something that can be done quickly, inexpensively and it just makes good sense,” Marion Hammer, a representative with the National Rifle Association told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced SB 152, a measure filed by Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube, who chairs that committee.

The bill would allow the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to give more payment options to licensed firearm dealers, importers and manufacturers when paying for criminal background checks. The only payment methods currently allowed in the state for that purpose are personal checks, money orders or cashiers’ checks.

If the measure becomes law, gun dealers would be able to take credit cards as a payment for background checks. This would save gun dealers money on postage, envelopes and paper to send checks.

Steube has also filed legislation that would allow people with concealed-weapon licenses to store their weapons with security officers at courthouses, something that is currently not allowed.

The bill has two more committee stops before it can head to the Senate floor for consideration.

Jack Latvala attorney wants ex-law enforcement official to head Senate probe

Steven R. Andrews, the attorney hired by Sen. Jack Latvala, wants to have a former law enforcement official conduct the Senate investigation into claims the senator sexually harassed or groped six women. 

Andrews sent a letter to Senate President Joe Negron on Tuesday, asking him to also have a retired judge preside over the case  as a “special master” and that testimony in the case should be under oath.

“I believe the Senate should comply,” Andrews said in an email to Florida Politics. “The request is reasonable and I think all parties need guidance on the policies and procedures going forward. All parties are entitled to due process.”

Andrews had expressed concern about Senate General Counsel Dawn Roberts recusing herself from the investigation, saying it “might leave a void in oversight.”

Roberts stepped aside after saying she has a long professional relationship with Latvala. She then recommended an independent investigator take the reins.

Latvala has denied the sexual allegations against him by six unnamed women, first reported by POLITICO Florida. The allegations range from him grabbing a woman’s buttocks to making inappropriate comments about a woman’s breasts.

“As one can easily understand, these allegations are incredibly serious and could permanently stain the reputation of a longtime public servant,” Andrews wrote in a letter to Negron.

Andrews is a longtime Tallahassee attorney, who is no stranger to suing the state government.

He also represented former embattled Sen. Frank Artiles when the Senate was investigating the Miami-Dade Republican for reportedly accosting two black lawmakers by using racially-charged slurs at the Governors Club in downtown Tallahassee. The inquiry was cut short when Artiles resigned from office.

Andrews’ law firm will be working with the Law Office of Stephen Webster in defending Latvala, who has relinquished his chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee until the investigation is resolved. Latvala continues to serve in the Senate and remains in the race for governor.

State will file federal suit against Valeant Pharmaceuticals

The state will file a federal lawsuit against Valeant Pharmaceuticals International over the $62 million it lost when it purchased company shares while Valeant allegedly ran a scheme that shielded it from competition and aggressively increased drug prices.

The Cabinet voted to pursue direct action against the drug company on Tuesday.

The State Board of Administration (SBA), which oversees the state’s investments, is looking to recover millions of dollars from the company that were lost in trading.

If the state opted to join a class action suit, instead of filing its own lawsuit, the estimate recovery would have been much less — about $390,000, according to staff analysis.

Controversial ‘sanctuary city’ ban bill clears lone committee stop

A controversial piece of legislation that seeks to ban communities that act as “sanctuaries” for undocumented immigrants passed its only legislative committee hearing on Tuesday, and could head to the House floor as soon as Session starts.

The proposal — a House leadership priority — would allow local officials who vote for “sanctuary city” policies, a police chief, sheriff or mayor to be fined or removed from office if they do not fully comply with federal immigration authorities.

HB 9, sponsored by Republican Rep. Larry Metz, would have an “indeterminate” financial burden on local communities without a guarantee of reimbursement, according to the bill’s analysis. And despite unanimous opposition from audience members, the measure passed the House Judiciary Committee on a 10-7 vote, along party lines.

Following the vote, House Speaker Richard Corcoran praised the move.

Corcoran said that “any elected official that puts his or her hand on the Bible and swears to uphold the law and still supports sanctuary cities should be removed from office.”

At least 70 people traveled from South Florida to Tallahassee to speak against the policy, which they said would be “suppressive,” face constitutional challenges and contribute to “hate and violence” in their communities. That included immigrant advocates, undocumented immigrants, who said they had been victims of domestic violence, and DACA recipients

Metz, who is sponsoring the bill for a third consecutive year, said “discrimination is prohibited and racial profiling is not acceptable” under the bill.

Rep. Cord Byrd, a Neptune Beach Republican voted with an “enthusiastic yes” to pass the bill. He then addressed audience members.

“You’re lack of documents is not the issue, it is the fact that your first act upon entering the country was to break our laws,” Byrd said. “Everyday there are plenty of laws I disagree with but I don’t get to pick and choose which ones I follow.”

Rep. Cynthia Stafford, a Miami Democrat, voted against the measure because she said the bill “will pit the community against law enforcement and law enforcement against the community.” She added it was “chilling” that campus police could soon question a student’s immigration status.

In Florida, there are no counties or cities with “sanctuary city” resolutions in place, according to Karen Woodall, the executive director for the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy. Although Woodall clarified there are local communities who are not actively “singling out” undocumented immigrants to federal immigration authorities.

Metz believes the Trump administration has helped deter communities from passing “sanctuary city” policies and that he doesn’t think the community would “see a huge fiscal impact initially.”

Metz supports a robust legal immigration system — one he admits his family has taken advantage of for several generations — but added he wants to “adhere to the rule of law.”

Last year, an identical bill passed the Florida House, but went nowhere in the Senate. This year, the measure was only referred to a lone committee hearing, something that concerned Rep. Ben Diamond, a St. Petersburg Democrat.

“I do think this is a controversial bill and having more than just this one (committee) stop would have been important,” Diamond said.

Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach Republican, has introduced similar legislation in the Senate, which has yet to clear two committee stops.

Rene Garcia urges legislators to ‘stop ignoring’ mental health issues

Republican Sen. Rene Garcia, who chairs the Committee on Children, Families and Elders Affairs, said Monday that legislators need to “stop ignoring” mental health in the state even more so after the massacre that killed more than a dozen churchgoers in Texas.

“We can no longer move on as a society until we start addressing this fundamental issue and stop ignoring it,” Garcia said. “This is a committee of children and families and we are charged with dealing with these complex issues.”

After condemning the acts of the Texas church mass shooter, Garcia said he wants to put his focus on policy that will better mental health, not gun control, this Session.

Garcia said he is welcoming suggestions and recommendation to make SB 12 — a landmark health care bill signed into law in 2016 — a more robust piece of legislation to better improve the delivery of mental health and substance abuse services in the state.

The bill was championed by Garcia. And this year, he hopes legislators can use it as a “vehicle to tweak some more things in.”

Among many things, SB 12 directs the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Children and Families to modify licensing rules to ease the administrative burden on providers and make it easier to offer both acute mental health and substance abuse services.

“I’m not going to be silent anymore, I will give more vocal opposition to the lack of mental health initiatives in this state and in this country,” Garcia said.

“I for one can’t see myself really doing anything this Session unless we take a real serious look at the underlying issue of  mental health. I think we can do more,” he said.

Rick Scott calls Jack Latvala sexual allegations ‘disgusting’

Gov. Rick Scott addressed the sexual allegations against Sen. Jack Latvala for the first time on Monday and said they were “disgusting” and that if anybody engages in such behavior they should “get out of office.”

“I can’t imagine this, I can’t believe (this),” Scott told reporters in Fort Myers. “Hopefully this is not happening. I expect that everyone is being treated with respect and that no one is mistreated.”

The sexual harassment claims against Latvala were first reported on Friday by POLITICO Florida. By Monday morning, Latvala had lost his seat as Senate budget chief.

The allegations have been condemned by members in both the House and Senate in both parties, and Senate President Joe Negron is looking for an independent party to investigate the claims made by the six unnamed women. Negron said the allegations that Latvala harassed and groped the women were “atrocious and horrendous.”

“We all need to understand the facts,” Scott said. “We need to know exactly what happened. If anybody has done anything wrong, we need to hold them accountable.”

Latvala has denied the accusers’ accounts and has threatened to sue POLITICO Florida for publishing the report. Following the report, at least five women, who have worked with Latvala closely over the years, have come to his defense in what some say appears to be a coordinated campaign to clear his name.

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