Ana Ceballos, Author at Florida Politics - Page 8 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.

Bill criminalizing unpermitted access to electronic devices moves forward

Law enforcement officers in Florida could soon need probable cause and warrants to access a suspect’s mobile location tracking device.

Those potential new restrictions are provided in a Senate bill (SB 1256) that cleared its first committee stop on Tuesday. The proposal, sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes, would also make it a crime to read a text message, email or other communication on a person’s cell phone without their permission, or without a warrant.

“We need to make sure Florida laws keep pace with changes in technology,” Brandes said. “With more and more families utilizing microphone-enabled communications tools to aid in daily household activities, this legislation makes sure our laws are clear with regard to when and how these devices can be subject to search,” Brandes said.

The measure cleared the Senate Criminal Justice Committee without debate. It also drew the backing of social media giant Facebook.

Under Brandes’ bill, an individual would not face criminal punishment in cases where an electronic device was accessed for business purposes and the information accessed is not “personally identifiable” or is collected in a way that “prevents identification of the user of the device.”

Following its passage, Senate President Joe Negron praised the proposal. He said it would address “current ambiguities” and protect Floridians from unconstitutional property searches.

Under Brandes’ bill, a law enforcement officer who wants to get the exact location of a suspect through their cell phone location tracker would be required to get a court-issued warrant.

Once a warrant is issued, the period of time that the data may be accessed may not exceed 45 days unless the court grants an extension to the warrant.

A House companion (HB 1249) sponsored by Tampa Republican Rep. Jamie Grant is moving ahead in the chamber and has two more committees before it hits the full floor.

Grant’s bill does not offer protections to businesses that gather information that is not personally identifiable.

Bill removing Confederate holidays advances despite being called ‘cultural genocide’

Legislation that would eliminate state holidays honoring Confederate figures advanced in the Senate Tuesday despite pushback from numerous speakers who said the proposal would be “cultural genocide” and an “insult” to their ancestors.

“This is cultural genocide,” a man from Jacksonville said. “Southern white people are in the minority. You can’t take away our culture and our heroes.”

The proposal was quickly politicized and those opposing the bill asked lawmakers to be like President Donald Trump who defends “our national anthem and beautiful statues.” One Republican speaker who opposed the bill said it was an “insult” to his ancestors and that he might sit out the next election if his representatives voted in support of the proposal.

Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, is sponsoring the bill, which she acknowledged in committee to be a “sensitive issue” to tackle in the Florida Legislature. Her measure cleared the Senate Community Affairs Committee, with Republican Sens. Tom Lee and Aaron Bean against it.

The companion bill in the House has yet to be heard in committee, making the proposal’s chances of passing the Legislature this session slim.

If the proposal were to pass, it would eliminate the birthdays of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis, and Confederate Memorial Day from the state’s list of legal holidays. A legal holiday does not necessarily make that day a paid holidays for public employee, and these three are not.

Scott McCoy with the Southern Poverty Law Center said it is time Florida puts an end to “its celebration of treasonous government and two of its leaders who fought to enslave and oppress and entire group of people based on the color of their skin.”

“When our government recognizes and celebrates the Confederacy and its white supremacist beliefs – whether through holidays, public monuments or naming of institutions – it undermines confidence in our government’s ability to serve all of its citizens,” McCoy said.

Richard Corcoran and Andrew Gillum to debate sanctuary cities

It took a few days to get the two on the same page, but Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum and House Speaker Richard Corcoran on Monday agreed on a time, date and place to debate on sanctuary cities.

The debate will be held Feb. 13 at the Tallahassee studios of Florida Internet and Television and will be moderated by Associated Press reporter Gary Fineout and Troy Kinsey, the capitol reporter for television station Bay News 9.

The idea for the debate was sparked after Corcoran’s political committee spent nearly $1 million on a controversial television ad that suggests undocumented immigrants are a danger to “any family, anywhere.” Gillum was quick to call the ad a “race-baiting” tactic.

“Speaker Corcoran finally agreed to defend his ‘racist’ and ‘fear mongering’ TV ad in a live debate against (Tallahassee) Mayor Gillum, the most outspoken critic of the ad and the most progressive candidate for Florida Governor,” said Geoff Burgan, Gillum’s communications director.

Corcoran has not yet announced his candidacy, but has been flirting with the idea of entering the governor’s race for months and the ad is making it clearer than ever that he plans to do so once the 2018 Legislative Session is over.

This year, Corcoran has prioritized legislation that would punish local officials who do not fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities with hefty fines or removal from office.

The bill passed the Florida House on week one of Session, but that bill is likely dead in the Senate.

Note: There are currently no sanctuary cities in the state of Florida.

Senate panel ignores petroleum industry pleas, advances fracking ban

A Senate panel on Monday launched the effort to ban fracking in Florida and unanimously ignored pleas from the oil lobby to stop the measure.

“By banning fracking you are sending a message to the country that fracking is not good,” Eric Hamilton, with the Florida Petroleum Council, said. “You would be sending the wrong message.”

Hamilton and Associated Industries of Florida — a group that has advocated for offshore drilling and on behalf of oil and gas industries —  were the lone two voices in opposition in a sea of organizations that came out in support of the statewide ban.

Republican Sen. Dana Young, who is pushing the bill to safeguard Florida’s clean water supply, said lawmakers have the “chance to stand up for the unique, fragile state” that they live in by supporting her bill (SB 462).

“This is not about us,” Young said, “we are going to be long gone before the harmful impact (of fracking) can truly be felt in the state.”

Young is championing the effort in the Senate with a group of bipartisan senators that include Democratic Sen. Lauren Book, who chairs the committee where the bill is now heading.

If passed, the bill would effectively ban any type of well stimulation technique statewide. That includes fracking – a practice that requires pumping huge volumes of chemicals, sand and water underground to split open rock formation to allow oil and gas to flow.

Environmentalists say Florida is at a higher risk for having chemicals leak into underground water sources because the state sits atop porous, sponge-like sedimentary limestone.

“Pumping chemicals is a very dangerous practice and would pose a grave threat to public health,” said Dr. Todd Sack, a representative of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “Doctors would never know what chemicals their patients are drinking.”

The Environmental Protection Agency concluded in 2016 that fracking poses a risk to drinking water in some circumstances, but added that a lack of information on the practice makes it hard to know how severe that risk would be.

Those opposing the measure argue the fracking ban could lead to litigation, because it would take away property rights and the ability for property owners to extract oil.

While the Senate panel unanimously advanced the measure, the likeliness of the proposal passing this session is slim.

A similar bipartisan effort in the House has stalled as House leadership seeks a study to get “hard evidence” on the dangers of the practice.

Juan Penalosa named executive director of Florida Democratic Party

The Florida Democratic Party confirmed on Monday that it has hired Juan Penalosa as its new executive director.

Penalosa most recently served as the senior vice president of Mercury LLC and has had key roles in the transition teams of both Chairwoman Terrie Rizzo and former Chair Stephen Bittel, who resigned in shame last November after he was accused of making inappropriate sexual comments to women in the workplace.

Penalosa also had a role in the Hillary For America Florida campaign.

This is the first major hire for Rizzo, who was elected two months ago and is working to bolster the party after it was rattled by the back-to-back resignations of Bittel and Sally Boynton Brown, the former executive director. 

Penalosa will help Rizzo shape her executive team as Democrats head into the busy 2018 election cycle and the party struggles to get their finances in check.

In her first month in office, Rizzo boosted fundraising efforts by more than $250,000. By the end of 2017 — heading into an expensive year with the governor’s race and a handful of highly-contested statehouse races — the party had less than $500,000 in the bank.

Pam Bondi’s aide appointed to Public Service Commission

On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott appointed Andrew Fay, the special counsel and director of legislative affairs to Attorney General Pam Bondi, to the Florida Public Service Commission.

The commission had been looking to fill the empty seat for some weeks after former state Rep. Ritch Workman — a Scott pick — resigned following sexual harassment allegations raised by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto. Benacquisto said she would not hold a confirmation hearing for Workman because he manhandled her at a 2016 charity event.

Workman “approached me from behind, pushed his body up against me and made vulgar and inappropriate gestures,” Benacquisto said in a statement last December.

After the former Melbourne appointee stepped down, the search began for his replacement for the $132,000-annual-salary utility regulator position.

Fay is a close ally to Bondi, a member of the three-member Cabinet that helps Scott set a wide-range of policy issues. The 34-year-old is appointed for a term beginning Friday and ending Jan. 1, 2022.

Bondi said she was “thrilled” for Fay.

“(I am) proud to have fully supported his appointment throughout this process,” she said. “The citizens of Florida will be served well by such an ethical and bright attorney.”

His appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Judge rules Florida’s voter-restoration process is unconstitutional

A federal judge on Thursday said the system used by the state to vet which ex-felons get to have their voting rights restored is unconstitutional.

“Florida’s vote-restoration scheme is crushingly restrictive,” U.S. District Judge Mark Walker wrote in a 43-page ruling. “The scheme crumbles under strict scrutiny because it risks — if not covertly authorizes the practice of arbitrary and discriminatory vote-restoration.”

Walker said the process should change, but did not say how. And gave Gov. Rick Scott, who was the main defendant in the case brought forth by the voting-rights group Fair Elections Legal Work, until Feb. 12 to respond on the issue.

In a statement, Scott said he would continue to defend the clemency process in court. But Walker gave a brutal assessment of the process, saying the state requires ex-felons to conduct themselves to the “satisfaction of the board’s subjective — and frankly, mythical — standards.

“Courts view unfettered governmental discretion over protected constitutional rights with profound suspicion,” Walker wrote.

Florida is home to about 1.5 million citizens who have been stripped from their voting rights, and is one of a few states that disenfranchise convicted felons who have served their sentences.

Walker said the “burdensome” state system felons go through to regain their voting rights relied on a “panel of high-level government officials over which Florida’s governor has absolute veto authority.”

He added that “no standards guide the panel.”

The ruling comes a week after a grassroots initiative that would automatically restore the voting rights of ex-felons in the state qualified for the November ballot.

Desmond Meade, who led the two-year initiative effort, said the ruling “validates what the people of Florida think when they say the system is broken.”

“This is a righteous campaign that we are in,” Meade said, “it is about all human beings. I believe this is just another indication that we are heading in the right direction.”

During the Scott’s time in office, felons have to wait longer before they can apply to have their civil rights restores. It can take years to hear a case and the state has a backlog of about 10,000 cases, which may cost the taxpayers $500,000 to deal with.

“The governor believes that convicted felons should show that they can lead a life free of crime and be accountable to their victims and our communities,” said John Tupps, Scott’s communications director.

But Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said Walker “declared what Floridians have known for many years — whether under a Democratic or Republican administration, the process for the restoration of civil rights, including the right to vote, is a system that is designed to fail.”

“There are almost 1.4 million Floridians who have completed the terms of their sentences and returned to our communities. Currently, with mandatory waiting periods before applying, a Board that meets only 4 times a year, and a backlog in the system, the average waiting time to get one’s case just on the agenda of the Board of Executive Clemency is 16 1/2 years.

“And even once someone gets heard, many applications are denied because the hearings themselves are arbitrary. The rights restoration system lacks standards, changes with each new governor and cabinet, and puts the power to decide who can vote in the hands of politicians.”

House alters child marriage bill to allow some minors to wed

A proposed change to a House bill that would have made it legal for some adults to have sex with children as young as 14 was tossed on Thursday after it drew criticism from a top senator.

But a House panel still pushed forward a proposal that would allow certain minors to wed, moving away from the strict ban on all child marriages it had originally.

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who championed the companion bill in the Senate, said it was “appalling” that state Rep. Kimberly Daniels filed an amendment that would have changed the House bill to “give a non-criminal violation to any adult having sexual relations with a 14 or 15-year-old.”

Hours after Daniels filed her amendment, she asked to withdraw it because it was “not germane to the bill,” state Rep. Chris Sprowls said.

“We are going to show the amendment by Rep. Daniels — we have spoken to her —we are going to show that amendment withdrawn,” Chair Sprowls told members of the Judiciary Committee.

The criminal statute Daniels wanted to tweak was the same one that makes it a criminal act for adults to entice “any person less than 16 years of age to engage in sadomasochistic abuse, sexual bestiality, prostitution, or any other act involving sexual activity.”

After tossing that proposal, the House panel adopted a change to the bill that would permit certain minors to wed under the law. Under the modified House bill, a 16-year-old who gets pregnant would be able to marry the father if he is 18 or younger. A written statement by a licensed physician would be required for a marriage license to be issued.

Despite the change, Republican state Reps. Julio Gonzalez and George Moraitis voted against the bill. Moraitis suggested changing existing law would encourage minors who get pregnant to get abortions if they can’t get married and Gonzalez said banning all minors from marrying would be an “overreach of legislative authority.”

Current state law permits minors ages 16 and 17 to marry with parental consent. But if a child of any age is pregnant, a county judge can use their discretion to authorize the marriage.

More than 16,000 children — one as young as 13 –have been granted marriage licenses in the state between 2000 and 2015. Supporters of the bill said the passage of legislation prohibiting all child marriages is a “victory for the thousands of Florida women who were forced and coerced into marriage as girls.”

The woman who inspired the legislation this year, Sherry Johnson, was forced to marry her rapist when she was 11. Her representative, Ryan Wiggins, said they were “thankful” for state Rep. Jeanette Nunez‘s leadership in the House, but “disappointed” that House Judiciary passed an amendment that “may be well-intentioned, but is equally ill-informed and based on assumptions.”

Nunez’ bill (HB 335) now heads to the full floor for consideration.

House votes to make it easier to return guns to certain suspects

The Republican-controlled Florida House on Wednesday passed a measure that would make it easier for individuals suspected in a disorderly conduct case to get their seized guns back.

Under state law, a law enforcement officer has to take away the firearm found on a person who is arrested in a disorderly conduct cases, including domestic violence. If charges are dismissed or a person is acquitted of a crime, they would be entitled to have their firearms back.

Republican state Rep. Cord Byrd wants to repeal that provision, which would no longer ban an officer from returning a firearm to an individual if their gun was impounded during a disorderly conduct arrest or under a search warrant. With an 88-24 vote, the House agreed to push through that proposal.

State Rep. Joseph Geller raised concerned about the bill, arguing that without some kind of judicial review it could be a public safety issue.

“I think there are some risky consequences into immediately returning these weapons into what could be dangerous situations,” Geller said.

While the measure quickly shot through the House, there is no companion bill in the Senate.

Houses pushes repeal of unconstitutional write-in candidate requirement

Florida could soon repeal a requirement that says a write-in candidate must reside in the district they seek to represent at the time they qualify to run.

The proposal was unanimously approved by the Florida House on Friday in large because the Florida Supreme Court invalidated the requirement in 2016. The ruling said the mandate imposed different limitation on the candidacy than those stated under the state constitution.

“It is not effective anymore, but we still need to get it out of the book,” said state Rep. Joseph Geller, who sponsored the bill.

The state constitution requires a candidate to reside in the district they seek to represent at the time of election or when a candidate assumes office — not at the time of qualification.

In Florida, no write-in candidate has ever won elected office. But parties and candidates can sometimes push a political novice to run as a write-in candidate as a tactic to benefit an incumbent and block full voter participation.

Primary contests in the state are open to all voters if candidates from other parties do not qualify to run. Election officials, however, have determined that any qualified write-in candidate can make it a closed primary election. This would mean only voters who are registered members of political parties may vote for respective party candidates.

The House bill sailed through its two committee assignments in the chamber, with panels voting unanimously in support. The fate of the companion bill in the Senate is still uncertain, with three committee stops remaining before it can head to the floor.

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