There is enough evidence to conclude that freshman Rep. Daisy Baez failed to live in her Coral Gables district when she was sworn into office and should be sanctioned, or removed, by the state House, a House ethics panel concluded Tuesday.
Baez, a Democrat, was elected last year to House District 114 after having lived in her Coral Gables home, located in House District 112, since 2009. The five-member bipartisan House Select Committee on Member Conduct made its unanimous recommendation of probable cause Tuesday, after hearing a presentation by House investigators. The House Committee on Ethics and Elections Committee will take up the issue again on Thursday, when it will give Baez her first hearing, and decide whether she should be punished.
A complaint was filed in May after the Miami Herald reported that Baez appeared to continue to be living in her home on Malaga Avenue, a half mile away from the district she was elected to serve. Baez said at the time that she had two residences, including an apartment in her district on Anderson Avenue that she was renting.
Florida requires lawmakers to live and vote in the districts they represent by Election Day and allows the members of each chamber to decide how to enforce it.
In response to the complaint, House Speaker Richard Corcoran created the committee to investigate the allegation that Baez’s failure to live in her district made her unfit to serve.
House investigators found that Baez continued to claim a homestead exemption on the Malaga Avenue property after she was elected, used the address on her driver’s license and credit cards and as the official residence of her businesses. After the Herald reported that the home she said she leased from Robert and Maritza Jacobson was still occupied by the couple and listed as their homestead, they also found that Baez obtained a lease for a second apartment in District 114 on Biltmore Way.
Since June, Baez has had her Malaga Avenue home listed for sale. She is seeking $680,000 for the 1,548-square-foot residence.
The meeting Tuesday was the first time that Baez and her attorney, Mark Herron, had been able to see the allegations. Herron told the panel that Baez’s actions show “she took steps prior to being elected to move to the Anderson Road property, to establish residency in the Anderson Road property” and suggested that shows she intended to follow the law.
“It is one of those situations where the intent and the acts come together to establish she has resided in the district and through the end of May and continuing to today,” Herron said.
He acknowledged that, “in a perfect world,” her paperwork would have followed but asked them to consider how they operate in their own lives.
“Think about when you move. Do you actually immediately respond and notify the Division of Drivers License of your change?” he asked.
Baez defended herself after the meeting.
“I just want to reiterate that I believe that I am a resident, and have evidence to support that I am a resident of [District] 114,’’ she said. “We look forward to work with the committee in an expedient way and get on with the business of taking care of the people of Florida and the many issues we have at hand.”
During the voice vote on the motion to find probable cause, the two Democrats on the committee, Reps. Emily Slosberg of Delray Beach and Tracie Davis of Jacksonville, were silent. The chairman of the select committee, Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, said he considers it a unanimous vote even though Slosberg and Davis did not voice a vote, because they had an opportunity to object or seek a roll call vote and chose not to do so.
After the meeting, both Slosberg and Davis said they supported the motion to find probable cause.
“It’s probable cause. It’s a low standard,” Slosberg said. “It’s not beyond reasonable doubt.”
Davis said she would have preferred to have allowed Baez’s lawyers to have an opportunity to present their case before the panel, “but with the evidence we had today, it was enough for us to say it was probable cause.”
Enforcing residency requirements is up to each legislative chamber and the House has had an uneven record in pursuing reprimands.
In 2011, the GOP-controlled House fined then-Rep. Reggie Fullwood, a Jacksonville Democrat, $1,220.40 for failing to become an elector of his district for 15 days after his election. The fine was based on the then-legislative salary of $81.36 a day.
A month later, then Rep. Frank Artiles, a Republican, was caught living in Palmetto Bay instead of West Kendall more than 170 days after his election. He admitted to it, but the House did not penalize him.
Leek said the committee will meet again on Thursday to take up the Baez case. But he couldn’t say if it will prosecute the case then, offering Baez and her attorneys an opportunity to respond.
Staff writer Patricia Mazzei contributed to this report.