Florida Legislature

Carlos Guillermo Smith knows hate crimes are real

Chicago’s police chief is accusing”Empire” star Jussie Smollett of using the “advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career” by paying two men to stage an attack on him last month.

The allegations concerning Smollett, who is black and gay, sparked an international avalanche of commentary, but one state representative who’s weighing in has more than a passing interest in the matter.

“I decided to finally tell this very deeply personal story because the reality is that hate crimes are real. Homophobia is real. Bigotry is real. And hate violence is on the rise against many groups. Anti-semitism is on the rise. Hate violence against transgender women of color is on the rise, especially in Florida,” Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith said in a telephone interview Thursday evening.

Smith, an Orlando Democrat who is openly gay, spoke with us after he tweeted about his experience as a survivor of “senseless hate violence” when he was a University of Central Florida senior in 2003.

In a telephone interview Thursday evening, Smith recounted the evening 16 years ago when a keg party turned into a gay-bashing attack on him and his roommate, Heath Frank.

The attacker, identified as “Eduardo Alessandro Mongio” in court documents provided by Smith, was “lingering around” and “acting kind of weird” at the crowded party, Smith said.

Other witnesses later said they heard Mongio making homophobic remarks, but “I never heard any of that,” Smith said.

But at some point a bloodied Frank came back inside the apartment, Smith recalled.

“He was red in the face. He was crying. I’m like, Heath, what’s wrong? He said, it’s nothing. Let’s go. Let’s go,” Smith said.

But when they went outside, Mongio confronted Smith and started punching him in the head and face.

“I didn’t know what was going on. But I got banged up pretty bad. When the dust settled, everyone was telling me about how the guy was making all these homophobic slurs about our group, because hey listen, we travel in cliques. We queer people, we stick together,” Smith said. “I don’t remember if the guy was drunk or what his deal was but he started lashing out at . It was like a full-fledged gay-bashing.”

Smith, who was still trying to piece together the events of more than a decade-and-a-half ago, said the police were called and Mongio was arrested. Once in the cop car, according to the police report, Mongio threatened to “get that fucker” and repeatedly referred to Smith and Frank as “faggots.”

“But I remember, the next day, I was so down on myself. I was humiliated. I was embarrassed. It’s hard to describe the feeling that you have when you’ve survived hate violence and you’re not sure what to do with it, especially when you’re young. I was like, what just happened,” he said.

Former state Rep. Joe Saunders, who was one of Florida’s first openly gay legislators and who was one of Smith’s close friends at college, told Smith the campus was “stunned” by the attack.

Saunders quickly penned “his first press release” and organized a rally where students — including Smith, who later worked with Saunders at Equality Florida — demanded that the university update its non-discrimination policy to include LGBT students.

Mongio was charged with two counts of “battery, evidencing prejudice,” and disorderly conduct. Prosecutors later dropped the hate-crimes enhancer — which could have added another five to 10 years to Mongio’s sentence — and the disorderly conduct charge after he agreed to plea no contest to the battery charges. He was sentenced to 312 days in the Orange County Jail followed by a year of probation.

And Mongio’s sentence also required sensitivity training, an anger management course, and a letter of apology to Smith, according to the court record.

Smith said he “felt compelled to speak out” as the controversy around Smollett exploded.

“I don’t know what the outcome is going to become of the Jussie Smollett case. But I can already see there’s a narrative out there that hate crimes aren’t real. No. They are. And they’re on the rise. Especially with the election of Donald Trump, who wears hate for other groups on his sleeve,” he said.

Smith said he feels “like justice was served” in his case. But he knows that’s not every other survivor’s experience.

“Even though it hasn’t defined me as a person, it absolutely is part of my experience as an out gay man, as an activist, as a lawmaker who cares deeply about issues of fairness and equality,” he said. “I think that people who now know this about me, they understand why I’m such a passionate advocate for my community. It doesn’t define who I am but its part of my experience.”

#Nosmokeisajoke: Florida laughing stock over MMJ smoking ban

Pot exclamation point!.pngLawyer Michael Minardi, the general counsel for Florida NORML unloaded on a Florida House committee yesterday over the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana.

Minardi, whose website proclaims he’s “The Gold Standard of the Green Industry,” joined other MMJ smoke proponents to shake the Florida House Health and Human Services Committee into axing the prohibition.

Before hearing from the advocates, committee Chairman Ray Rodrigues made a significant concession by stripping a provision that would have required docs to get approval from a “case review panel” before they could order smokable marijuana for patients.

The House plan now would restrict patients to buying pre-rolled joints with filters from licensed medical marijuana dispensaries. The advocates aren’t crazy about that provision, but hey, they can always rip off the filters and stuff the weed into a bong or whatev once they get it home, per Ray Rod.

Minardi told the committee that smoke is the number one choice for patients in other states where medical marijuana is legal. (It’s much cheaper than tinctures or vape oils). The committee also heard from patients who admitted they’re smoking weed so they can benefit from the “entourage effect” you can only get from whole flower.

“Patients are going to continue to use flower whether or not you do this (legalize smoking) or not. They’re going to either get it from the black market, as they already are, because they know it’s what works for them. Every other state in this country is laughing at us, saying that we gave our patients tinctures, and we have wax and shatter on the shelves, and not flower,” Minardi said.

“Do you understand the impact of that and how ironic that is? You’re giving them the hard stuff, but not letting them have the beer but take a shot of tequila. That’s what that’s equivalent to,” he went on.

We’re pretty sure that most of the members of the committee have no clue what “wax” or “shatter” is, but who hasn’t had a Dos Equis followed by a shot of Cuervo Gold?

Lawmakers are taking the wrong approach with filters, if they’re concerned about screening toxins out of joints, according to Minardi.

“A bong hit is the best way to do that,” he advised.

The pre-rolled, filtered MMJ “cigarettes” are sure to be a negotiation point between the House and Senate as they try to meet Gov. Ron DeSantis’ March 15 deadline to nix the smoking ban.

Sen. Jeff Brandes’ proposal, approved by the Innovation, Infrastructure and Technology Committee yesterday afternoon, doesn’t have any restrictions on whole flower sold at dispensaries, and would allow patients to buy equipment at smoke shops.

The buy-your-bong-at-a-bong-shop provision will likely be another item on the negotiation table.

Speaker Oliva: Florida pot system “not terribly free market”

img_0971(1)He’s not calling it a cartel, as Gov. Ron DeSantis did right out of the gate.

But House Speaker José Oliva does admit the state’s vertically integrated medical marijuana system — which requires operators to grow, process and dispense cannabis and related products — “isn’t terribly free market.”

“I couldn’t possibly be a defender of free markets and call that structure a free market,” the Miami Lakes Republican, who made his fortune in his family’s cigar business, told reporters at The Associated Press’s annual pre-session gathering in the Capitol today.

“The limiting of licenses and the limiting of dispensaries is probably the greatest affront to the free-market argument,” he went on.

Whether the Legislature will agree to change the current system during the upcoming session, however, remains a mystery.

When asked about revisiting the state’s MMJ regulatory structure, Senate President Bill Galvano gave a tepid response.

“I expect that bills will be filed in that regard,” Galvano, R-Bradenton, said.

Despite his free-market concerns, Oliva was even less enthusiastic, using a lot of double negatives to describe the House’s position.

“I’m not entirely sure that that’s not something that we will be revisiting this year, because it affects access and it could certainly affect price,” Oliva said. “We’re still trying to get an idea of what kind of demand there really is for this. But I wouldn’t disagree … It hasn’t been a terribly free-market process.”

Shortly after taking office, DeSantis bashed vertical integration and the caps on licenses.

But this week, the governor appeared to walk back his opposition to those issues, focusing instead on his demand that the Legislature do away with the state’s ban on smokable medical marijuana.

Here’s what Oliva said when we asked him if doing away with vertical integration would destabilize a market in which licenses have sold for tens of millions of dollars — including one transaction in which a license sold for $63 million in cash earlier this month.

“If the question is, would having a more free-market approach destabilize the private market, in particular the value of these licenses, well, sure, that’s what markets do,” the speaker said, making us feel a little foolish for asking the question, TBH.

“If the question is, will it destabilize the market and its ability to bring forth products that are safe and traceable and consistent, I don’t think it will do that. So, yeah, if you put more houses on the market, chances are you’ll have to lower the price of your house,” he concluded.

Oh, and about that repeal of the smoking prohibition the governor wants?

DeSantis may be forced to carry through on his threat to drop the appeal in the lawsuit over smokable medical marijuana, based on what the legislative leaders said today.

To put it mildly, Oliva’s not keen on allowing patients to smoke their medicine.

“Is one to believe that an 8-year-old child should be smoking marijuana and inhaling smoke into their lungs? I’ve been in the smoke business my entire life, and I’ve never heard anyone say it’s good for you,” he said.

The speaker indicated the push for smokable MMJ is just a ploy to open the door to recreational weed.

“Is medicine a façade and a masquerade for recreational marijuana? If it is, that won’t be very supported by the House. If we really want to look at marijuana, and what ailments it can truly relieve and people it can actually benefit, then that’s what we’re looking at,” Oliva said.

Fried: State should crack down on rogue pot docs

img_1116State medical boards should take action against Florida physicians who are inappropriately recommending medical marijuana for their patients, Florida Cabinet member and state Agriculture and Consumer Services Commissioner Nikki Fried said Tuesday.

“Our priority is making sure we have professionals inside of this program,” said Fried, a Democrat and former medical marijuana lobbyist who ran for the statewide Cabinet post last year  on the promise of making medical marijuana more easily accessible to those who qualify.

“But, of course, if any doctors are getting in the program and are unethically prescribing and recommending the medical marijuana, that’s something that we need to look into and that’s something for the Board of Medicine to have some swift action on,” she added.

The News service of Florida reported in December that a new state analysis prepared for the Legislature shows that the number of Floridians using medical marijuana continues to grow despite a slow rollout.

In the first nine months of 2018, more than 136,000 patients across the state received certifications from 1,070 physicians to receive medical marijuana.

In all, those patients received 174,254 certifications — some could have received multiple certifications — for a host of medical conditions that qualify them to use marijuana. That included 41,143 certifications, or nearly 24 percent of the overall total, for post-traumatic stress disorder.

The report, issued by the Physician Certification Pattern Review Panel, also shows that physicians in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Palm Beach counties accounted for more than 30 percent of the medical marijuana certifications between January and Sept. 30.

The average medical-marijuana dose ordered was 372 milligrams per day, according to the data. But in Highlands County, where 470 patients were certified to receive the drugs, the average dose was 3,956 milligrams.

And in Nassau County, where two patients were reported as being certified, the average dose ordered was 17 milligrams.

Thirty-one states allow patients to use medical marijuana, including nine states that also have approved marijuana for recreational purposes.

Lawmakers in 2017 passed a state law authorizing the use of medical marijuana, which was approved by Florida voters in November 2016.  The new law required Florida’s two medical boards to form a joint committee that examines and analyzes the ordering patterns for physicians who certify patients. The panel is required to annually submit a report to the governor and legislative leaders. The new report is the first time such a document has been produced and submitted to the Legislature.

The Legislature is expected to address medical marijuana when it meets in its regular 60-day legislative session that is scheduled to begin March 5.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has said the state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana runs afoul the intent of amendment, and has given lawmakers until March 15 to repeal the smoking ban.

— By The News Service of Florida staff writer Christine Sexton.

“Mechanical failures” right out of the gate prompt Oliva, Fried to call for state plane

galerie_military_aviation1That didn’t take long.

For just the handful of days since he was sworn in Tuesday, new Gov. Ron DeSantis has been buzzing around the state on a plan seized in a drug bust by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

But as DeSantis and his entourage were en route to a press conference in South Florida Friday afternoon, the plane was diverted to St. Petersburg due to “mechanical failures,” according to the governor’s office. On board with the governor were Attorney General Ashley Moody; DeSantis’ chief of staff, Shane Strum; and three other EOG aides, according to the governor’s office.

Former Gov. Rick Scott, a mega-millionaire who used his own private jet to travel around the state, sold off the state plane shortly after taking office as part of a government cost-cutting spree.

But DeSantis, with a reported net worth of just over $310,000, likely doesn’t have the dough to plunk down for an air bus.

The “mechanical failures” of the plane carrying the governor of the nation’s third-largest state — which, oh by the way, has an annual budget of more than $80 billion and is, dare we point out, gosh-darn HUGE — and one of its three Cabinet members, days after they took office, drew a hasty response from House Speaker Jose Oliva on the “need for safe and reliable transportation for the governor.”

“The Members of the House of Representatives are thankful that the Governor’s plane landed safely after reporting mechanical difficulties.  Today’s incident, combined with the sheer size of our state, starkly reminds us that we need a safe and reliable means of transportation for the chief executive. The House stands ready to work with the Governor’s office to ensure such transportation is obtained,” Oliva, R-Miami Lakes, said in a statement.
The plane isn’t available to Cabinet members, just DeSantis, but Moody was part of the group headed to the Fort Lauderdale area for the press conference where the governor announced he had suspended embattled Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel.
The plane kerfuffle prompted new Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried to chime in.

“As statewide public servants in one of the largest states in the nation, an efficient method of air transportation is prudent to best serve our constituents, conduct state business, and carry out the duties of our offices. Cost-effective and responsible use of state aircraft would enhance our situational response and our availability to the people of Florida. I’m grateful that Governor DeSantis, Attorney General Moody, and all onboard landed safely – today’s aircraft incident underscores the importance of dependable transportation for Cabinet members,” Fried said in a statement.

 

 

 

Senate exploring process for ousted Broward supervisor Snipes

fullsizeoutput_1861Senate President Bill Galvano said Tuesday he’s working with his staff to address the issue of former Broward County elections supervisor Brenda Snipes, ousted from her office by Gov. Rick Scott after she submitted her resignation from the post.

The embattled Snipes, appointed by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2003 and re-elected four times, told Scott she was walking away from the job, effective Jan. 4, amid repeated calls for her to step down or be stripped from office following a number of problems in the November election.

But after Scott booted her from office Friday night, Snipes rescinded her resignation, accusing the Republican governor — and U.S. senator-elect — of attempting to embarrass her and “tarnish her record.”

Scott replaced Snipes with long-time ally Pete Antonacci, whose badge awaited him at the winter meeting of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections but who was a no-show.

If Snipes chooses to follow through with her fight against her removal from office, the Florida Senate will have the final say in whether she should keep her position.

After he appeared briefly at the supervisors’ conference in Sarasota Tuesday morning, reporters asked Galvano about Snipes.

“I’m working with my staff on that issue and I’m not going to comment further,” the Bradenton Republican said.

Someone “reached out on her behalf” to his staff “to understand what the process is,” Galvano said.

Senators “are the ones who ultimately remove, or maintain her current position” after a trial, Galvano explained when asked to explain the Senate’s role.

“We are looking at the process right now, and what the options are and what’s required of us and what the timing of all of that is, so it will be sooner rather than later,” he said, when asked how long it would be until the Senate weighs in on the matter.

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee would be the first panel to take up the issue, he said.

Dueling Dems go after Trump, cigar-toting Republicans in latest ads

Democrats Gwen Graham and Jeff Greene launched new TV ads this week, as time runs out before voters start casting ballots in the Aug. 28 primary.

Greene, the Palm Beach billionaire who lives next door to President Donald Trump, takes aim at his neighbor in one of two ads totaling a $2.7 million weeklong buy, according to Greene’s camp.

Or rather, Trump is the one taking aim in the ads — with his golf club.

The spot features the president swinging away on the golf course, and complains that “Florida taxpayers are paying for it — literally ” every time Trump visits the Sunshine State. The presidential drop-ins cost millions in overtime and road closures, according to the ad, in which Greene pledges “to put a stop to that, day one” if elected governor.

A second Greene ad’s more upbeat, and stars the candidate, his wife and his three young sons — Malcolm, Brandon and Cameron — he says are the reason he’s in the race to succeed outgoing Gov. Rick Scott.

Greene is a late entry into the crowded Democratic field, but he’s pledged to spend what it takes to move into the govenror’s mansion.

In her latest ad, Graham — who ousted former U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland in 2014 and served a term in Congress before deciding to seek re-election after her North Florida district was redrawn — continued what appears to be a general-election strategy by going after Republicans.

“It has been really bad for Florida that, for twenty years, the Republican Party has been in total control. It’s these high-paid lobbyists that are in charge in Tallahassee,” Graham says while black-and-white images of GOP legislators posing with cigars on the floor of the state House flash on the screen.

Graham and Greene are facing off in the primary against Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and Orlando entrepreneur Chris King.