Democrat Daisy Baez, a first-term lawmaker who had been considered a rising star in her party, left the state House on Wednesday as she pleaded guilty to perjury in an investigation about her legal residency.
In a single-sentence letter delivered Wednesday morning to House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Baez wrote that “effective immediately, I am resigning my office.”
The plea deal, which ended an investigation by the Miami-Dade County State Attorney's Office, was a blow to House Democrats. It put Republicans on the verge of a supermajority --- which can be important for procedural reasons --- by holding 79 of the 119 occupied seats.
Her seat will remain vacant until a special election, which will be called by Gov. Rick Scott. It is possible that the seat will remain vacant until after the 60-day regular legislative session, which begins Jan. 9.
House Democrats announced the resignation early Wednesday, after Baez reached the agreement with the state attorney's office. The office had been investigating statements made under oath by Baez regarding her residency.
“The circumstances are unfortunate, and we respect Daisy's decision to resign from the House,” said Rep. Kionne McGhee, a Miami Democrat who is slated to take over as House minority leader after the 2018 elections. “We appreciate her service and wish her nothing but the best.”
The hit for the state Democrats is the second in less than a week, following the abrupt resignation Friday of Palm Beach County Democrat Jeff Clemens from the Senate. Clemens, who resigned after admitting an affair with a lobbyist, was poised to take over as leader of the Senate Democratic caucus after the 2018 elections.
In Baez' plea agreement, which required her to resign, she agreed to a single count of perjury, a first-degree misdemeanor. She will be sentenced to one year of probation, pay a $1,000 fine, and take an ethics course with the Miami-Dade Commission on Ethics and Public Trust. She is also prohibited from running for public office while on probation, which will keep her off the 2018 ballot.
The decision by Baez, a health-care consultant and U.S. Army veteran, eliminates the need for the House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee to hold a planned hearing on Dec. 4 to determine if she violated residency requirements when elected last year.
“Rep. Baez made the right decision,” Corcoran said in a statement Wednesday. “On behalf of myself and my colleagues in the House, I want to express our thanks and appreciation to the members and staff of the Public Integrity and Ethics Committee and its Select Subcommittee on Member Conduct, all of whom handled this investigation in a thoughtful, professional, and bipartisan manner.”
The committee had received a report from the Select Subcommittee on Member Conduct that found “probable cause” Baez was not a legal resident of House District 114 when she was elected in 2016.
An investigative report alleged Baez used residences outside House District 114 for a homestead exemption, a driver's license and voter registration.
Baez said she was a legal resident when she was elected last year. Mark Herron, Baez's lawyer, told the select subcommittee that Baez had established a legal residence with a Coral Gables couple, who live in District 114, at the time of her election.
Baez, who had voted early using an address outside the district, changed her voter registration to the couple's address less than a week before her election.