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Florida's First Openly Gay Latino Lawmaker Outlines Top Legislative Issues

Sascha Cordner
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando), new to the Florida House, is the state’s first openly gay Latino lawmaker.";

Among the newest members of the Florida Legislature is Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-Orlando), the state’s first openly gay Latino lawmaker. Educational issues regarding minorities and LGBT youth are among his top priorities.

Bright Futures

State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith represents the East Orlando area—where there are five universities. That includes the University of Central Florida. And, he says higher education is very important.

“I heard a lot on the campaign trail—knocking on doors and talking to voters—that college affordability is a major concern. The Florida Legislature made deep cuts to the Bright Futures funding in 2010.”

And, the 35-year-old says the cuts to the program had a devastating impact on minority students.

“The first year after they cut the Bright Futures scholarship program 47 percent of Latino freshmen were kicked out of Bright futures, 63 percent of black freshmen of longer qualified after those cuts,” Guillermo Smith added. “So, one of my main priorities is to reinvest in that scholarship program.”

Guillermo Smith says he believes everyone deserves an education, regardless of their zip code. So, he says he intends to file legislation that will bring Bright Future qualification levels back to pre-2010 levels.

“Because that’s how they [the legislature] made the funding cuts, technically,” he continued. “They didn’t say, ‘we want to cut $250 million from the program.’ They instead raise the standards for SAT qualifications, for example, for Bright Futures, in a way that implied that half of the students would no longer be eligible for the program and they [the legislature] would get their cost savings that way.”

That could become a reality this year because that’s a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron (R-Stuart) as well.

Marijuana decriminalization

Marijuana decriminalization is also a top priority for the Freshman Florida lawmaker. Guillermo Smith calls Florida’s marijuana laws “draconian and out of date.” At times spending up to $220 million a year to enforce these laws, he says Florida is unfairly and wastefully using taxpayer funds to incarcerate minorities and young people for minor drug offenses. Instead, Guillermo Smith says officials could be using that money for things, like public school funding.

“I think it’s time to move forward and that’s why I’m going to file a marijuana decriminalization bill to say that possession of 20 grams or less is not a criminal offense and that law enforcement would be mandated to issue civil citations in those cases.”

While he is Florida House freshman, Guillermo Smith has had prior legislative experience working as an aide to other lawmakers.

LGBT Issues

Also, making state history as Florida’s first openly gay Latino lawmaker, he says he’ll also be tackling issues affecting the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender community—especially in the wake of the Pulse nightclub tragedy. The former Legislative director for LGBT group Equality Florida says it should start with disarming hate in schools.

“Kids are not born with hate in their hearts. They learn it from adults, and that’s why it’s so important that we have LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying policies in our K-12 schools, that we have these types of cutting-edge programs that communicate to our LGBT youth that we love them, we accept them, and they’re going to be safe, when they go to school every day.”

The Pulse massacre at an Orlando gay nightclub—that left 49 people dead and more than 50 injured—is the worst mass shooting in modern American history.

Stay tuned to Friday's Capital Report for more on this story. CLICK HERE for the story.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.