Florida House

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.”

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.

Grieving fathers to House: “Come together as the families have done”

IMG_2951(1)As some House Democrats argued against a school safety proposal they maintain contains a “poison pill” that would allow school personnel — including some teachers — to carry guns to school, the parents of two slain students pleaded with the Legislature to pass the bill.

Andy Pollack’s 18-year-old daughter Meadow died in the Feb. 14 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and Ryan Petty’s 14-year-old daughter Alaina was also among the 14 students and three faculty members killed in the nation’s second-worst school shooting at the Parkland school.

The grieving fathers spoke to reporters Wednesday as the House debated the school safety measure (SB 7026), and even as a handful of Democrats spoke against it.

“There’s so much good in this bill that it needs to pass,” Pollack said. Last night, the families of the 17 students and teachers sent a letter to House members, urging them to pass the bill.

“If anyone’s voting against it in their, they have a different agenda than what their community has, which is protecting our kids and making them safe,” Pollack, who was one of the parents who met with President Donald Trump at the White House, has  appeared on national television speaking out in favor of school safety. “Whoever’s voting no, doesn’t have the interests of the kids in the community as their best interest.”

Petty said that the families had different opinions and come from different backgrounds.

“We came together. We’re united behind this legislation. And our ask is that the Florida House come together as the families have done and pass this bill,” he said.

Pollack said he can’t understand why any lawmaker would oppose the bill, a $400 million package that includes money for early mental health screening and school hardening.

“Whether you’re a Democrat or a Republican, there’s everything that’s good in this bill that’s good for the community. Sure, there’s a couple of things … Nothing in life’s ever perfect. But a majority of this bill is going to help the communities,” he said.

Petty agreed, brushing off questions about the lack of an assault weapons ban sought by many of the Douglas High students who lobbied lawmakers and Gov. Rick Scott on the bill.

“We’re not focused on the individual provisions of this. There’s enough good in the middle of this bill that everybody can agree on and that’s what we’d ask the Legislature to do. Focus on the things you agree on, not the things you disagree with,” said Petty, who, accompanied by Scott, made direct appeals to the House and Senate during floor sessions last week. As Andy said, this is about keeping our kids safe in their schools. It’s not about political agendas. Set them aside. Vote to pass this legislation and let’s protect our kids. We can lead in Florida,” he said.

 

Baez bids adieu

9a32ac_0dde67415b964a95b833eba04b0ef84b~mv2_d_5000_4167_s_4_2Democrat Daisy Baez thanked her supporters a day after exiting the House as part of a plea agreement regarding perjury in an investigation about her legal residency.

“As I return to my life as a private citizen, I pledge to continue fighting for universal healthcare, empowering our teachers, and improving the equality of life for the youngest, and the most vulnerable Floridians,” Baez wrote — in both English and Spanish — in an email Thursday.

In Baez’s 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, eliminated the need for the House Public Integrity & Ethics Committee to hold a hearing, scheduled for Dec. 4, to determine if she violated residency requirements when elected last year.

Baez’s exit is obviously a loss for Democrats, who flipped the GOP-held seat in a hotly-contested race last fall.

Here’s Baez’s full farewell message:

On November 1, 2017, I tendered my resignation as a Member of the Florida House of Representatives. I have been honored to serve the residents of Florida, Miami-Dade County, and District 114. Thank you for giving me that opportunity.

When I began my service as a Representative last year, I vowed to serve the public interest to the best of my abilities. I am confident that 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 equality of life for the youngest, and the most vulnerable Floridians.

I will never forget all the individuals who have supported me, and have shared their dreams and hopes for a better future. Your commitment to achieve a better life for your families, for Florida, and for our great country, is what has inspired me every day. Your words of support are engraved in my heart. I thank you infinitely for your friendship and for the opportunity you have given me to become the first Dominican American member of the Florida Legislature.

If you have not heard from me before, it is because I’m recovering from the passing of my mother last week. I take this opportunity to ask that you to give me time to finalize the funeral arrangements and eventual burial in her beloved birthplace of Salcedo in the Dominican Republic.

I want to reiterate that I will continue in my role of community activist, and will keep fighting with you for the issues that are important to our community and the state of Florida.

Baez: “You’re my army!”

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State Rep. Daisy Baez, under investigation by a House committee, is using her military experience to raise money for a re-election campaign.

The picture above accompanied a fundraising email sent out by the campaign of Baez, a Miami Democrat.

As a soldier I wore this nation’s uniform to give my life for the cause of freedom, justice, and democracy. Soldiers never give up, and I will never waver on my commitment to continue fighting for you.

You’re my army, and I need you to join this battle today with your support and contributions. Will you contribute $50, $25, or any other amount today?

A state House committee Tuesday found “probable cause” to proceed with an investigation of whether 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.”

GOP lawmakers headed to homeland

hp-capitol-flagRepublican state Reps. Rene Plasencia, Bob Cortes and David Santiago are headed to Puerto Rico tomorrow to meet with government officials, according to a press release issued by Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs.

The three-day trip will include visits with the Puerto Rican House speaker, the governor’s chief of staff, and port officials, according to the release.

The three-day trip is “a continuation of the dialogue initiated earlier this year” by Plasencia’s office and will focus on healthcare, trade and the economy, the release said.

“With the population of Puerto Ricans in Florida exceeding 1 million, it is imperative that our two governments have a dialogue on how to address not only the impact that is being felt across all Florida communities, but also on the island of Puerto Rico,” Plasencia, R-Orlando, said.

The Puerto Rican trip comes after officials from the island visited Central Florida earlier this year.

Mallea snags Jeb! en español

Miami brewmeister Jose Mallea, Miami Republican with close ties to the Bush dynasty, released a Spanish-language radio ad Monday featuring former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Mallea, who’s facing off against lawyer Daniel Perez in a heated GOP special primary election to replace state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, worked as a campaign aide for Bush and for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, another Hispanic South Florida home boy whose connection Mallea has tried to capitalize on.

In a press release from his campaign Monday, Mallea touted his support from former governor, who backed Mallea early on in the battle for District 116.

“Governor Bush is one of Florida’s greatest leaders, and I am honored to have him behind our campaign,” said Mallea. “I plan to keep working hard in the home stretch of this primary to make sure District 116 has a representative in Tallahassee who will work hard for conservative policies that will improve education and increase opportunity for everyone.” 

Here’s the translation of the ad:

 

“This is Jose Mallea asking for your support for the special election on July 25th.

I am asking that you don’t believe the lies from the low campaign my opponent is running.

Our district deserves better! Less taxes and more opportunity.

This is why former Governor Jeb Bush is supporting me in my campaign for State Representative.

“Hello, this is Jeb Bush. Jose Mallea is a trusted friend that’s going to defend us. Jose will use his Republican values to work for you in the Florida Legislature.

That’s why I am asking you to vote for Jose on July 25th.