Emboldened by Trump victory, new Florida legislature aims rightward

By : Billy Manes
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Though early reports of Florida’s arriving House of Representatives and Senate seem to indicate a kinder, gentler edge to proceedings – including more transparency, less nepotism, fewer spouses on airplanes during official business – at least one Democratic legislator isn’t really convinced. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who was officially elected to represent east Orlando this fall, making him the first Latino LGBTQ house representative to take that office, isn’t convinced.

“I think the Florida legislature is preparing to take a hard right turn,” he says. “They have been unapologetic already.”

Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, has already filed a bill aimed at repealing in-state tuitions for undocumented students, something that passed on bipartisan terms in 2014. Steube has also introduced an open-carry bill that would also allow concealed-carry permit holders to take their guns into what were previously considered gun-free zones.

“There are bills to allow guns everywhere you imagine,” Smith says. “Their right-wing ideology, which has been bought by the gun lobby, says, ‘The only way we can solve the gun problem is with more guns.’ That’s insane.”

And that’s not all that’s in the offing, Smith says.

“We have to get ready to push back hard against this right wing agenda,” Smith says. “An agenda that not only discriminates against gays but all minorities, and also does no good work with our taxpayer’s resources.”

Smith’s plans focus predictably on higher education, as he campaigned on the issue. He was assigned to the Post-Secondary Education Committee and its appropriations subcommittee. He hopes to “get a good shot at trying to shape higher education in the Florida educations system,” he says. He also wants revamp Florida’s Bright Futures scholarship program, something he says has faltered under Republican leadership. Likewise, Smith intends to push for more backing of the Competitive Workforce Act in support of LGBTQ employees in Florida.

“If the tragedy at Pulse has done anything it has strengthened my resolve on common sense gun laws,” he says, adding that he hopes to see an increase in funds drawn down to help those with post-traumatic stress and other mental health issues in the wake of the June 12 massacre.

We did see many Republican elected officials in Central Florida who evolved on workforce equality after Pulse. That’s a good thing,” he says. “Now what the trick is going to be is to apply that to the rest of the Republican leadership outside of the greater Orlando area.”

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