By Patricia Mazzei
Embroiled in a criminal case over her legal residency, state Rep. Daisy Baez resigned from the Florida Legislature on Wednesday, the first step in a deal with prosecutors that will also require her to plead guilty to perjury.
Investigators believe Baez, a Coral Gables Democrat, lied when she filled out a voter-registration form changing her address days before the November 2016 election. She claimed to live in her district, but investigators concluded she never paid rent or slept in the apartment.
Facing a potential third-degree felony for lying on an official form, Baez agreed to plead guilty to a similar misdemeanor charge and resign.
She lasted less than a year in the Florida Legislature.
Baez sent House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, a one-sentence resignation letter Wednesday morning: "Effective immediately, I am resigning my office as a member of the Florida House of Representatives, HD 114."
She is the third lawmaker to resign in scandal in just over six months. Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens of Atlantis, the incoming Senate Democratic leader, quit last Friday after Politico reported on his affair with a lobbyist. Republican Sen. Frank Artiles of Miami stepped down in April after the Herald revealed he used a slur in front of two black lawmakers and hired "political consultants" who were former Hooters calendar models.
The Herald revealed in May that Baez still did not appear to live in her district, as required by the Florida Constitution.
Under the terms of her pending plea agreement with Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernández Rundle's office, Baez will also pay a $1,000 fine, take an ethics course and serve one year of probation, during which she'll be banned from seeking public office.
"I want to thank the residents of Florida, Miami-Dade County and District 114 for giving me the opportunity to serve, it's been a great honor," Baez said in a statement late Tuesday to the Miami Herald. "When I began my service as a Representative last year, I vowed to serve the public interest to the best of my ability and I am confident I have done so. As I return to my life as a private citizen, I pledge to continue fighting for universal healthcare, empowering our teachers, and improving the quality of life for the youngest, most vulnerable Floridians."
Baez's resignation leaves House Democrats with only 40 members in the 120-member chamber. That leaves Republicans on the verge of a super majority going into the annual legislative session that begins Jan. 9. Republican Gov. Rick Scott must call a special election to fill Baez's swing seat, and he's under no obligation to do so before session.
"Daisy did what was right for herself, her family and the community, in her view," House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee of Miami said. "The only thing we can do us support her in whatever decision she made."
On May 16, Baez told the Herald, "I have two residences."
She produced a lease that had her living in District 114 from Oct. 1-April 30. But investigators concluded Baez lived in the home she owns in District 112 -- and did not lease a third rental property in District 114 until May 26, nine days after the Herald published its story.
Baez voted by mail in District 112 in October 2016 before changing her voter address ahead of Election Day.
The controversy forced Baez to drop out of a high-profile race for state Senate District 40. She had been tapped by top Florida Democrats, who considered her a rising party star, even though she was a freshman representative with only one legislative session under her belt. Last November, she defeated Republican John Couriel by 2 percentage points -- a difference of 1,336 votes out of 67,268 cast.
Prosecutors questioned Baez earlier this month, shortly after a House committee found probable cause to investigate a citizen complaint in June over Baez's residency. That investigation could have resulted in Baez's expulsion from the chamber; the committee issued subpoenas last week to depose witnesses in the case, though the depositions were pushed back after the death of Baez's mother.
Following Baez's resignation, the House investigation will now be moot.
Miami Herald staff writer David Ovalle contributed to this report.
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