Florida state Rep. Daisy Baez
Florida state Rep. Daisy Baez ()

A state House committee found “probable cause” to proceed with an investigation of whether Rep. Daisy Baez violated residency requirements when she was elected to her Miami-Dade County seat in 2016.

After hearing an investigative report that alleged Baez used residences outside House District 114 for a homestead exemption, a driver’s license and voter registration, the Select Committee on Member Conduct voted to move the investigation forward to the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, which will likely conduct a broader inquiry into the allegations.

Baez, a Democrat in her first term, attended the meeting but did not testify, although she said she has not violated the requirement that she live in District 114 at the time of her election and subsequently as she represents the area.

“I just want to reiterate that I believe I am a resident and I have evidence to support that I am a resident of District 114,” she said, adding she would cooperate with the investigation so it can be resolved “in an expedient way.”

Mark Herron, Baez’s attorney, said by the nature of the select committee’s proceeding, only “one side” of the case has been presented, with Baez getting a chance to present her side as the inquiry moves to the Public Integrity and Ethics Committee.

Herron said much of the conflict of the addresses and Baez’s residency can be explained as an effort by the House member to move to the district as she was seeking election.

“That’s what we have here,” Herron said. “We have a candidate who is in the process of moving from outside the district to inside the district over a period of time.”

Herron also said there is “no silver bullet or single factor” to determine residency. Instead, he said “all of the relevant facts” will have to weighed, including Baez’s intent to move into the district.

“Legal residency consists of the concurrence of both fact and intention,” Herron said. “In terms of establishing residence, intention is a highly significant factor.”

The investigative report presented to the committee showed Baez had a homestead exemption for a house on Malaga Avenue in Coral Gables, but outside her district, from 2010 through the end of 2016. She relinquished the tax break in May 2017 after reports were published questioning her residency in District 114.

Baez also used the Malaga Avenue address for her driver’s license. It wasn’t changed until May 2017, although state law requires such changes to be made within 30 days after a relocation, the report showed.

Baez voted early in the 2016 general election, with her voter registration reflecting the Malaga Avenue address, the report showed. On Nov. 1, Baez submitted an address change for her voter registration to a condominium on Anderson Road in Coral Gables, which is within District 114. She was elected on Nov. 8.

The Anderson Road residence is owned by Robert and Maritza Jacobson, who have donated to Baez’s campaign.

In his testimony, Herron made reference to a lease agreement between Baez and the Jacobsons, although no documentation has been presented to the House committee.

Herron said Baez legally resided at the Anderson Road address at the time of her election “because she entered into this agreement to move over there.” Baez has subsequently move to another address on Biltmore Way, which is in her district.

Herron said addresses Baez was using on other records, including the homestead exemption and driver’s license, were not changed “contemporaneously” with her move.

“In a perfect world, they would have,” Herron said. “But they didn’t. So I can’t deal with those facts, other than to say the intention and acts must be considered together.”

Although the committee, which included three Republicans and two Democrats, used a voice vote to find probable cause and move the inquiry to the Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, the decision was unanimous.

Reps. Emily Slosberg, D-Boca Raton, and Tracie Davis, D-Jacksonville, said they believed there was enough evidence for the finding.

“I think the probable cause standard has been met,” Slosberg said, saying she would wait for Baez’s evidence to be presented at the next committee before deciding whether Baez had violated the residency requirement.