State Politics

Miami lawmaker hit with residency complaint

State Rep. Daisy Baez, D-Coral Gables, pictured during the legislative session that ended in early May.
State Rep. Daisy Baez, D-Coral Gables, pictured during the legislative session that ended in early May. TAMPA BAY TIMES

A Coral Gables voter said he has filed a complaint against state Rep. Daisy Baez, accusing the Democrat of violating a Florida requirement that lawmakers live in the districts they represent.

Christian Rodriguez asked House Speaker Richard Corcoran and the Florida Commission on Ethics to investigate Baez’s residency, according to a copy of the complaint obtained by the Miami Herald. The complaint, dated May 29, was received by the ethics commission; it did not comply with House complaint rules, House spokesman Fred Piccolo said Wednesday. Enforcing residency requirements is up to each legislative chamber.

“Baez is ineligible to represent the district in the Florida House of Representatives and should be removed immediately upon a finding that she either never established her permanent residency within House District 114 or she relinquished her permanent residency,” the complaint says.

Rodriguez, a registered Republican who lives in District 112, said in an email to the Herald that he did not consult with the GOP before filing his complaint, though he did seek legal advice from a lawyer he did not name.

“Rep. Baez’s actions and flagrant disregard for the law are just one more example of why voters like myself have a dim view of elected officials and believe that the political process is broken,” Rodriguez said.

The Herald reported May 16 that Baez did not appear to live in District 114, which she has represented since being elected last November, but rather in neighboring District 112, where she owns a house on Malaga Avenue and has a property-tax homestead exemption. Baez told the Herald she has a second residence: a rental on Anderson Road, within District 114 boundaries. That apartment is owned and occupied by a couple that donated $1,800 to Baez’s campaign last year.

After the Herald story was published, Baez dropped out of a special Florida Senate race and put a “For Rent” sign on her front lawn. Friends said she was looking to rent another apartment in District 114.

“I’m aware of the news stories that are trying to distract from the important issues facing our communities and our state,” Baez said in a statement Tuesday. “I currently live in the district I represent and right now my focus is on the special session and my continued efforts to push for more responsibility and transparency when handling our tax dollars, to protect our public schools and the environment and to bring better paying jobs to the district.”

Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser Pedro Garcia’s office is investigating Baez’s homestead exemption, the Herald reported May 22. Because exemptions are granted for a homeowner’s primary residence for the calendar year, it’s likely that Baez’s 2016 exemption for the Malaga Avenue house was proper. If she renewed her tax benefit for this year but now claims to live elsewhere, she would still have time to make changes to her 2017 exemption.

A spokesman for State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle, a Democrat, said the office would not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.

Rodriguez also sent the complaint to the Miami-Dade state attorney, clerk of courts and property appraiser, and the Florida secretary of state, who oversees elections.

The Florida Constitution, and a state House rule, require legislators to vote and live in the districts they represent by Election Day. Baez switched her voter registration to the Anderson Road apartment six days before the Nov. 8 election. But she kept the Malaga house as her residential address on her driver’s license, according to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles. She listed the Anderson apartment as her mailing address.

Last week, a political committee tied to Andrew Vargas, a Republican who has filed to challenge Baez in 2018, mailed an official-looking letter to her constituents alerting them of Baez’s residency issues.

This story has been updated.