Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith talks wins and losses from the 2019 legislative session

By : Jeremy Williams
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ABOVE: State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith with fiancé Jerick Mediavilla (R) on stage with Gina Duncan and Jeff Prystajko minutes after the proposal at the Come Out With Pride Rally in 2018. (Photo by Danny Garcia)

ORLANDO | Florida’s 2019 legislative session wrapped with a $91 billion budget and with less than 200 of the more than 1,800 bills filed surviving on May 4.

“For all intents and purposes, this legislative session was a disaster for Floridians. But the budget was decent,” says State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith (D-49). “That is my assessment. The budget was just OK and [the Republican House majority] destroyed everything else.”

Smith points to bills passed that negatively impact felon voting rights, immigration, public schools and gun control as key points this session that voters should be troubled by.

“Just a year after Parkland; after teachers, students, parents and pretty much everyone else begged Tallahassee not to do this, they passed a law to arm teachers in our public school classrooms,” Smith says.

The House approved the measure allowing teachers to carry guns on campus May 1 with a vote of 65-47.

“Floridians voted to restore voting rights for returning citizens and ex-felons by more votes than they voted for any candidate on the ballot statewide,” Smith says. “Republicans then decided that they were going to undo Amendment 4.”

Amendment 4, which restored the voting rights of Floridians with felony convictions after they complete all terms of their sentence including parole or probation, passed in 2018 with nearly 65% of the vote. Lawmakers then passed a measure requiring repayment of financial obligations before voting rights could be restored.

Another bill—or rather bills—that received no movement in the legislative session this year was the addition of sexual orientation and gender identity to the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992. The Florida Competitive Workforce Act (FCWA) would make it illegal to terminate a person from their employment, force them to leave a business or evict them from their home simply for being LGBTQ. The bill has been introduced in some form since 2007.

This year, the Florida Inclusive Workforce Act (FIWA) was introduced one day after the FCWA and only focused on workplace protections. Smith supports the FCWA and believes that if the current leadership in Tallahassee would hear the bill that it would easily pass.

“The FCWA had over 70 co-sponsors in this last session,” Smith says. “We have the votes we need to pass this in the House and the Senate, it’s time that Tallahassee moves forward with it so we can finally pass that into law.”

While things didn’t go exactly according to plan, Smith admits that the start of his second term wasn’t all disastrous.

“Coming back, I think everyone fully understood what I stood for and what my policy goals were,” Smith says. “I think a huge difference that I saw this year was we had so many more new lawmakers that really stepped up to be fierce and authentic champions alongside me. Having people serving in the Florida House like Rep. Anna Eskamani, Rep. Cindy Polo, Rep. Fentrice Driskell, Rep. Margaret Good; notice they’re all women.”

Smith and colleagues were able to allocate $500,000 in state funds for the Pulse memorial and museum, as well as increase spending from $2.7 million in 2018 to $21.25 million for arts and cultural programs statewide.

“We really elevated that issue this year and created more awareness of arts funding to our economy as well as the character and culture of Florida and once again we were successful,” Smith says.

The next legislative session starts Jan. 2020 and while Smith and his team are still building their strategy for change in Tallahassee, there is one change that Smith is excited to see happen.

“Before the end of the session I introduced my fiancé and said, ‘The next time you see me I will be Carlos Guillermo Smith-Mediavilla’,” Smith says with a smile. “We’re getting married in September. The fact that I’m actually able to marry the man of my dreams isn’t something I thought I would be able to do.”

Smith’s partner, and now fiancé, Jerick Mediavilla proposed very publicly on stage at a Come Out With Pride rally in Orlando Oct. 2018.

“It’s not lost on me, our public engagement and the visibility of our relationship,” Smith says. “We can really make an impact on queer youth by being out, being proud and being authentic. We need to be the role models  that were not there for us when we were younger.”

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