Ana Ceballos, Author at Florida Politics

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.

Rick Scott signs executive order on sexual harassment

Gov. Rick Scott issued an executive order Wednesday mandating all state agencies under him have a “process that works” when it comes to receiving and investigating sexual harassment complaints.

“We cannot tolerate sexual harassment at all in Florida, and today’s executive order protects state employees by directing how agencies report, investigate and train against sexual harassment in the workplace,” Scott said in a statement.

Effective immediately, all state agencies in the executive branch are to designate a person to provide sexual harassment training for all new employees within a month of their start date.

Scott has also directed each agency to “initiate a prompt review of all complaints of sexual harassment” when they are received.

But he dodged questions about whether he had swiftly handled the allegations against former state Rep. Ritch Workman, whom he appointed to the Public Service Commission. Workman resigned after Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto publicly accused him of making “vulgar and inappropriate gestures” at an event last year.

“Ritch Workman did the right thing for his family, and I’m going to do everything I can to protect everyone in our state … (but) I don’t go into conversations I have with members of the Legislature,” Scott told reporters after Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting in the Capitol.

Workman’s resignation came after Benacquisto sent out a statement on the claims, and not after the Scott administration was first made aware of the allegations. Scott said Workman did “the right thing” by stepping down.

During Scott’s tenure, there have been seven sexual harassment cases settled with state executive agencies, totaling $413,750. Fourteen percent of those cases involved state workers alleging sexual harassment and retaliation in the workplace.

Over the past 30 years, the state has doled out more than $11 million to settle more than 300 cases in which state workers alleged they were sexually harassed or forced to work in a hostile work environment.

Under state and federal law, retaliation against anyone who has reported sexual harassment is prohibited. In order to prevent this from happening, Scott’s executive order states that each agency is required to protect the privacy of those involved.

“To the extent practicable, each agency should take action to eliminate further contact between the complainant and the subject of the complaint until the conclusion of the investigation,” the order states.

The governor previously signed legislation creating a public records exemption for “identifying information of state employees who file sexual harassment complaints.”

After an investigation concludes, Scott is ordering that those who filed the complaint should be offered resources available from the state’s employee assistance program.

State agencies that don’t fall under the governor’s umbrella are not required to follow the practices put forth in the executive order, but Scott “encouraged” them to do so.

Later Wednesday, AFSCME Florida Executive Director Andy Madtes said his union “strongly supports” the Governor’s directive.

“We are hopeful it will give future victims the ability to come forward without fear or intimidation for themselves or their careers,” he said in a statement.

Capital correspondent Ana Ceballos contributed to this post. 

Senate spends $25K on outside attorneys for Jack Latvala probe

The Senate has spent nearly $25,000 in taxpayer money on outside attorneys in connection to the sexual harassment allegations against Sen. Jack Latvala, according to Senate records.

In mid-November, Senate President Joe Negron hired a trio of attorneys from the GrayRobinson law firm to help him navigate the investigation into sexual harassment and groping allegations against Latvala, one of the chamber’s most powerful senators.

Negron sought the help from the Orlando-based firm after the Senate general counsel, Dawn Roberts, recused herself from any involvement in the case, citing a potential conflict of interest because of her close association with Latvala over the years.

Since the contract was signed on Nov. 9, George Meros, who has represented embattled high-profile Republicans in the past, attorney Brian Bieber and attorney Allison Mawhinney have worked a total of 46.8 hours.

The attorneys charge an hourly fee, and according to the contract, their rates are $600 for Bieber, $550 for Meros and $345 for Mawhinney.

The contract with GrayRobinson states the attorneys will provide “legal and consulting services to the Senate” until Negron or his designee decides the services are no longer needed.

In recent weeks, one of the six women who accused Latvala of sexual harassment accused him publicly, intensifying the strategy behind his legal defense, which has led Sen. Lauren Book to file a formal complaint with the Senate Rules Committee, where she accuses him of interfering with the investigation.

Legal battles are also starting to appear even as some senators speculate the Senate investigation may be coming to an end.

Rachel Perrin Rogers, who publicly accused Latvala of sexual assault and harassment, has not ruled out the possibility of suing Latvala, according to her attorney Tiffany Cruz.

Cruz said the lawsuit would not be dependent on whether a special master finds probable cause in the Senate investigation, and the Tallahassee-based attorney may also be eyeing a potential lawsuit against the Senate.

“My client had hoped for a fair and impartial process in the Senate, but due to recent actions, we have serious concerns,” Cruz said.

Last week, Cruz asked the Senate to preserve all records related to the case, including emails, text messages, spreadsheets and documents.

Two days after that request was made, Lily Tysinger, a former Senate Majority Office colleague of Perrin Rogers who has helped Latvala mount his defense with sworn statements that take aim at Perrin Rogers’ credibility, filed a defamation suit against Perrin Rogers.

Cruz said she is “absolutely” filing a counterclaim against Tysinger.

Tysinger’s attorney, Marie Mattox, who has been behind several sexual harassment cases settled with the state, said the case is related to the “unsafe working environment” Rogers created for her at the Senate Majority Office.

Proposal allowing retroactive criminal law changes heads to full CRC

A Constitutional Revision Commission panel on Tuesday cleared a proposal that would give lawmakers the power to adjust criminal sentencing guidelines retroactively.

Commissioner Darryl Rouson, appointed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, is sponsoring the measure (P 20), which he says would “remove an archaic provision” added to the state constitution in 1885.

“This clause was a response to fear and maintaining it has proven over time to be an overreach,” Rouson told the members in the Judicial Committee.

The proposed change to the state constitution would allow lawmakers to use their judgement to apply reduced or increased sentencing requirements to people who commit crimes before new rules have gone into effect.

Now that the proposal cleared its last committee stop, it heads to the full 37-member commission. If approved, it will go directly on the November ballot, where it would need 60-percent voter approval to become part of the state constitution.

While Commissioner Tom Lee, a Republican senator, supported the proposal, he expressed concerned that a constitutional amendment could also give the Legislature power to potentially alter “what a state attorney can charge somebody with or what a judge is required to hand down as punishment.”

“Just keep one eye on it if you would,” Lee said.

The measure has been pushed by a coalition of mostly conservative organizations and former state Rep. Neil Combee, who recently resigned his post in the Legislature for a job in the Trump administration.

If passed, reduced sentences would not be automatically retroactive, the Legislature would have to stipulate retroactivity in the bills passed.

Poll: Gwen Graham leads Democratic gubernatorial primary

Former Congresswoman Gwen Graham is improving her standing in the early stages of the 2018 gubernatorial race, leading the three other Democratic candidates, according to a new poll out Monday.

She holds a seven-point lead over second place over Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

The poll, released by Associated Industries of Florida, a GOP-leaning business lobby, shows Graham with 24 percent, while Gillum is at 17 percent.

While the poll points to a Graham-Gillum race at the moment, the money does not favor the Gillum team, which has struggled to raise cash. By the end of October, he had raised $1.6 million total for his campaign.

“Always would like to have more, but it’s far from the whole story,” Geoff Burgan, a spokesperson for the campaign, said. “Florida history has borne that out.”

In that same time period, Graham’s raised $4 million and Chris King, a newcomer in Florida politics, pulled in $2.7 million for his campaign. Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, though, has raised the most: somewhere in the ballpark of $7 million.

King and Levine each have 4 percent of the vote in the four-way race, according to the poll. Both trailing rumored Democratic gubernatorial candidate, prosecutor Katherine Fernandez Rundle, who has 6 percent of Floridians’ support in the poll.

Levine’s deep pockets are not to be underestimated, though. Money could soon boost Levine’s statewide name recognition in the race, and he is already working to do so by paying for bilingual TV advertisements.

To keep the momentum, Gillum is betting on the vote of African-Americans, a demographic with which he is leading, according to the new numbers. But as the 38-year-old runs on an “unapologetic progressive” platform, very liberal voters are narrowly favoring Graham (25-23) — not him.

“Name ID is higher for her, for now. Gillum is building real momentum on issues and clearly growing in his race,” Burgan said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King wants to reform committee week meetings

If Chris King becomes governor, he wants committee weeks to be held throughout the state — and not exclusively at the Capitol.

The Democratic gubernatorial candidate says he will champion legislation that would mandate committee weeks be held in “as many regions as possible” across the state to give constituents better access to state government.

“The location of our legislative process benefits individuals and organizations with the financial means and time to travel,” King said in a statement.

Historically, committee weeks have always been held at the Capitol, making this change a departure from the norm. But King said the “remoteness” of the Legislature is one of the reasons unethical behavior continues to occur in state government.

King envisions committee weeks being hosted at Florida public schools or universities ahead of Session, and once they are done, lawmakers will once again flock to the state Capitol to begin Session.

The Orlando entrepreneur also wants to push policies that support and protect victims of sexual misconduct. He wants to make sure any settlement made in a sexual misconduct case against an elected official is subject to a public record request, but the names of victims are confidential.

He also wants to have an eight-year lobbying ban for former members.

King is trailing former Congresswoman Gwen Graham and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the four-way 2018 Democratic primary. His campaign said Friday it raised $100,000 in November and that it has more than $1.6 million on hand.

Jack Latvala accuser sued by former colleague for defamation

A witness for Sen. Jack Latvala in the sexual harassment case sued his accuser for defamation on Friday, claiming she spread lies about her having sexual encounters with colleagues and about her being mentally-ill.

Lily Tysinger, a 22-year-old Senate staffer, got tangled up in the Senate sexual harassment investigation when she released an affidavit that raised questions about Rachel Perrin Rogers, who filed a sworn complaint against Latvala for sexually harassing her during a four-year period.

Tiffany Cruz, who is representing Perrin Rogers, said the sworn statement Tysinger released this week, in which she suggested Perrin Rogers’ false claims about has an effect on her demotion — and an $11,000 pay cut — , was a “complete lie.”

Marie Mattox, who has built a career around cases related to sexual harassment and workplace discrimination, particularly involving state workers, is representing Tysinger. A few years ago, Mattox and Cruz worked together.

Tysinger had been considering suing Perrin Rogers for defamation since Monday. She pulled the trigger late on Friday and filed the lawsuit in Leon County Court.

Cruz said the complaint against Perrin Rogers, a top aide to future Senate president Sen. Wilton Simpson, is “meritless and frivolous” and will “absolutely” file a counterclaim against her.

“This is absolutely an act of retaliation and intimidation,” Cruz said.

In anticipation of any claims brought in court related to the Latvala sexual harassment case, Cruz sent a letter to Senate President Joe Negron asking him to preserve nearly eight years of records.

In the letter, first obtained by News Service of Florida, Cruz requested emails, texts, voice messages and text message, spreadsheets, images and documents. She also asked him to intervene to prevent the loss of those records.

“I’m asking them to preserve documents related to any claims that may be brought in court,” Cruz said. “It’s a pretty standard evidence preservation request.”

She added that the suit is an example of the intimidation tactics Latvala is using to keep women from coming forward and reporting sexual harassment. Sen. Lauren Book, a Democrat from Plantation and a close ally of the embattled Clearwater Republican, filed a formal complaint with the Senate Rules Committee this week accusing him of interfering with the Senate probe into his alleged sexual misconduct.

While the lawsuit brought forth on behalf of Tysinger makes no mention of Latvala, it is directly linked to the information she shared that has helped his legal team build a defense.

Steve Andrews, one of Latvala’s attorneys, said that he was “shocked” to see Tysinger sue Perrin Rogers, even though it had already been reported that she had been mulling the legal battle for a few days.

“I don’t know whether it benefits us or not, we don’t know what to think of this,” Andrews said. “We are reviewing the lawsuit and we don’t know what to think yet.”

In the complaint, she accused Perrin Rogers of attacking her credibility in “credible internet new agencies” that has resulted in her being humiliated and shamed in addition to having damaged her reputation for time to come.

Tysinger is seeking to recover damages of at least $15,000.

As the Senate investigation continues and calls for his resignation gradually increase, Latvala keep on fighting while staying in office.

“My client had hopes for a fair and impartial process in the Senate, but due to recent actions, we have serious concerns,” Cruz said.

Congressman says Jack Latvala Senate investigation is a ‘sham’

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz thinks the Senate sexual harassment investigation into Sen. Jack Latvala is a “sham” and refused to speak to the attorney leading the investigation, according to a POLITICO Florida report.

“The Florida Senate’s ‘investigation’ into Senator Latvala is a sham. I will not validate it by participating,” Gaetz wrote in a letter to Gail Holtzman, the third-party investigator hired by Senate President Joe Negron.

Gaetz said the Senate probe, which has been going on for about a month and has already prompted Sen. Lauren Book to file a complaint against Latvala for interfering with it, is not “serious” because it has not protected “those (Latvala) has harmed.”

“Accusers know it. Senators I’ve spoken know it. And so do I. Sad!” Gaetz wrote in the Nov. 30 letter.

Gaetz, who was the only Republican to go on record with POLITICO in early November when it reported six unnamed women were accusing Latvala of sexual harassment and groping, called the Clearwater Republican an “absolute hound.”

Bill Nelson backing Terrie Rizzo for Florida Democratic Party chair

The most powerful Democrat in the state has endorsed Terrie Rizzo to be the next leader of the Florida Democratic Party, giving her a clear path to the chairmanship.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson publicly backed the Palm Beach County Chair on Friday, a day before elected party officials get to elect the next party chair.

Nelson has 42 votes toward the next chair. While it is not the most of any other members — Committeeman Stephen Bittel and Committeewoman Francesca Menes each have 62 votes — Nelson definitely has the most sway.

In a press release announcing the endorsement, Rizzo said his support “seals the deal in the bid for chairwoman of the Florida Democratic Party.”

“I’m honored to receive the endorsement from such a diverse group of electors. It means a great deal to have the support of both the grassroots and current and former elected leaders like Alex Sink, Senator Bill Nelson and Congresswoman (Val) Demings,” Rizzo said.

Miami-Dade Democrats have a very big influence on who gets elected, and on Friday an electronic vote was opened to members. The results of that electronic vote will be published early Saturday morning.

DEC member JeffreyDocSolomon will be casting Bittel’s 62 votes.

Solomon said in a Facebook post he’d be “honoring the vote of our Miami-Dade DEC membership.”

Hillsborough County Democrat Alma Gonzalez and Brevard County Chairwoman Stacey Patel are still in the race and will face Rizzo at the election in Orlando.

Johanna Cervone to leave Florida Democratic Party for University of Miami

Come early January, Johanna Cervone will no longer be working for the Florida Democratic Party.

The state party’s communications director is leaving her post to work at the University of Miami, where she will be the executive director of communications at the Office of President Julio Frenk.

Cervone was hired in March to expand the state party’s press outreach, soon after ousted Chair Stephen Bittel was elected to lead the party. She was brought in with a special Hispanic media focus.

It is not yet clear who will be the main point of contact for the media when dealing with state party issues. But her departure comes at a time when Florida Democrats are finding a new leader and a new president while also facing a financial strain ahead of a busy election year.

Before coming to work for Florida Democrats, she served as the South Florida Regional Press Secretary for the Hillary for Florida campaign. Prior to her role on the campaign, she served as the communications director for Miami-Dade Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava.

Cervone did not want to go into details regarding her decision.

Florida Democratic Party’s federal account out of cash as 2018 approaches

Ahead of what is expected to be a busy 2018 election year, the account Florida Democrats use to fund federal campaigns is out of money, according to Federal Elections Commission records.

At the beginning of the year, the Florida Democratic Party’s federal account had $383,439 in the bank, but as of late October, it is more than $18,490 in the red. Beyond that, the Party owes more than $18,000 in audio and visual services to Production Resource Group.

Johanna Cervone, a spokesperson for the party, declined to answer specific questions about the financial management of the federal account but said the party is “confident” in its economic status as a whole.

One of the most prominent vendors in the federal account this year was Markham Productions. The FDP spent more than $550,000 in audio and visual services with that company. It also transferred $150,000 in federal money to the Ohio Democratic Party in return for cash that the FDP was able to use through its state account.

The federal account started hemorrhaging money during the brief tenure of now ousted Stephen Bittel, a longtime, millionaire Democratic donor elected under the promise of boosting the Party’s fundraising efforts and finances.

It also happened under the watch of former President Sally Boynton Brown, who resigned last month after she publicly defended the sexual misconduct of Bittel and two former staffers accused her of enabling his inappropriate behavior in the workplace.

Boynton Brown, a transplant from the Idaho Democratic Party, was tasked with overseeing state party funds.

The money strain comes ahead of a contentious election cycle, which will likely see the party’s most powerful politician, three-term Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, face the toughest race of his career as Gov. Rick Scott eyes his seat.

Though national groups like the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee will offer financial help with that race, having the state party’s federal committee account underwater is not a positive for Democrats.

Beyond the Senate race, there will be at least two congressional races that are expected to be highly contested and expensive, including an effort to defend incumbent U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy’s 7th Congressional District in Central Florida and trying to defeat Republican Carlos Curbelo, who holds the South Florida swing seat.

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