Hate crimes are real. Just ask state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith.
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 and ignited concerns that reports of the bogus attack could have a chilling effect on victims of hate-related violence.
Smith, an Orlando Democrat who is gay, is turning the controversy into a teachable moment, by sharing his own experience as the survivor of an assault.
While a student at the University of Central Florida, Smith and his friend, Heath Frank, were beaten up at a keg party by a man who repeatedly called his two victims “faggots” after he was arrested, according to a police report.
“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,” Smith said in a telephone interview.
Smith took to Twitter on Thursday about his experience as a survivor of “senseless hate violence,” posting a picture of his battered face and a police report of the incident.
The attacker, identified as Eduardo Alessandro Mongio in court documents provided by Smith, was “lingering around” and “acting kind of weird” at a crowded keg party, Smith said.
After beating up Frank, the attacker confronted Smith.
“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. It was like a full-fledged gay-bashing.”
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.
SMOKE ‘EM IF YOU GOT ‘EM
Measures that would allow patients to smoke medical marijuana are headed to the House and Senate floors as legislative leaders iron out differences in their plans.
Lawmakers moved closer to agreement Thursday, after the House Appropriations Committee eliminated a proposal that would have restricted medical marijuana dispensaries to selling pre-rolled cannabis cigarettes with filters.
After making the change, the committee approved the House version of the smokable-marijuana bill (HB 7015). But unlike the Senate’s bill, the House version would not allow dispensaries to sell other whole-flower products.
The Senate proposal (SB 182) would require medical marijuana operators to sell at least one type of pre-rolled, filterless cigarette and allow them to sell other whole-flower products. It also would let patients buy equipment to smoke cannabis products from other retail outlets, such as smoke shops.
The House plan would ban children from smoking, while the Senate measure would allow minors to smoke medical marijuana if patients get a second opinion from a pediatrician.
Both proposals are ready for floor votes after the annual legislative session starts March 5.
Shortly after he was sworn into office last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis gave lawmakers until March 15 to address the smoking issue. If they don’t act, the Republican governor threatened to drop the state’s appeal of a court ruling that said the ban violates a voter-approved constitutional amendment broadly legalizing medical marijuana.
Leaders in both chambers remained confident they would finalize a deal in time to meet the governor’s deadline.
“At each committee stop, I believe the two chambers have moved closer. I think by the time we put the bills on the floor, we will have them aligned,” House sponsor Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, told reporters after Thursday’s meeting.
Rodrigues said he expects the full House to vote on the proposal by the end of the first week of session.
Whether patients under age 18 should be allowed to smoke remains the biggest sticking point for the House, according to Rodrigues.
“We don’t believe children should be smoking medical marijuana,” he said.
The Senate’s biggest issue, meanwhile, is allowing patients to access whole-flower products other than pre-rolled joints.
Rep. Ralph Massullo, a Lecanto Republican who is a dermatologist, pointed out that marijuana is still a Schedule 1 drug under federal law and that a paucity of research exists related to smoking cannabis as a treatment.
By allowing smoking as a route of administration, “we’re basically letting the tail wag the dog,” he warned.
But, said Massullo, “It’s solving problems, and that’s what we need to do.”
“CHOICE” EDUCATION PLANS
Top Senate Republicans on Thursday released details of a package that would bring significant changes to the state’s education system, most notably through an expansion of school choice.
The package would expand private school options for students, bolster security measures in schools and overhaul a program for teacher bonuses.
The series of proposals, which will be filed next week, are aligned with what DeSantis has proposed, including a pitch for a new voucher-type program funded directly with public money rather than through a system that involves corporate tax credits.
The Senate and the Republican governor want to create the voucher program to help reduce a waiting list of roughly 14,000 low-income students in the existing Florida Tax Credit Scholarship Program. In that program, corporations receive tax credits for contributions to non-profit organizations, which, in turn, pay for children to go to private schools.
Senate Education Chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, said the eligibility requirements between the Senate and the governor’s proposals for the new program are “very similar.” But details will have to be worked out during the legislative session.
“My plan is to provide relief for these kids who are on a waitlist and those parents who want to provide a better education for their child,” Diaz said. “We start with the premise that every child is different … and what works for one child may not work for another.”
Senate Democrats slammed the package for putting taxpayer dollars into a voucher program that benefits private schools.
“The latest move is not only an abandonment of the traditional public-school system in Florida but an abandonment of the constitutional obligation to fully fund a ‘high quality system of free public schools’ that has been built over generations by the people, for the people,” said Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville.
STORY OF THE WEEK: The House and Senate are getting closer to agreement on a plan that would allow patients to smoke medical marijuana, a priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “We really don’t know what we’re doing.” --- Rep. Ralph Massullo, a dermatologist, referring to a lack of scientific research about the effects of smoking medical marijuana on patients.