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Young Dems’ guns debate pits ‘fundamental rights’ versus ‘compelling reasons’

A gun laws debate featuring staunch 2nd Amendment Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon and irrepressible “common-sense reforms” Democrat state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith boiled down Tuesday night between a demand that fundamental rights should not be abridged without compelling reasons, and expressions of perceived compelling reasons.

Plakon, a Longwood Republican who sponsored House Bill 6005, to allow guns on college campuses, continuously referred to gun ownership as a right to which all Americans are born. “Shouldn’t we start with, you are born with these rights and that’s the default position? And to remove those you should have a good reason, other than guns care me,” he demanded.

Smith, an Orlando Democrat who sponsored House Bill 167, to ban sale of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines, continuously challenged what civilian use such weapons could have outside of mass killings. “They serve no legitimate civilian purpose, and because they are and they have become the weapon of choice and gold standard for mass murder.”

Plakon and Smith were brought together Tuesday evening by the Young Democrats of Orange County for what was to be a debate on two specific legislative matters: Plakon’s bill to allow guns on college campuses, and bills to allow open-carry of firearms in Florida. But from the start the debate took on much broader dimensions, covering gun rights and efforts to reduce gun violence.

The two lawmakers were joined Tuesday evening by Barry Mauer, a University of Central Florida professor and leader of the United Faculty of Florida union; and Seminole County conservative political commentator Michelle Ertel. The moderates were equally split: former Democratic Florida House Minority Leader Mark Pafford and former Republican Orange County Clerk Eddie Fernandez.

Mauer insisted that there is absolutely no support for a guns-on-campus law, and that many professors were so aghast at the prospect that they express reluctance to even appear in classrooms if the law is adopted. He also portrayed America’s gun culture as something that has drifted to the extreme right in recent years and now reflects the “dreams and nightmares” of survivalists.

Ertel said gun ownership is a choice and noted she chose to not have guns in her house when her children were young but now has guns, including an AK-47. She lashed out at the notion that she should expect the government to protect her, or that the government would tell her how she could or could not protect herself.

But it was Plakon’s and Smith’s positions that mattered, since both are at the forefront of their parties’ gun fights in Tallahassee, and both came fully armed with detailed knowledge of surveys, studies and crime statistics.

Plakon insisted none of those surveys, studies and crime statistics conclusively showed that gun-free zones, or bans on open-carry of weapons led to more violence. In fact, he argued that the worst crimes occurred in defined gun-free zones, because deranged killers know they’ll be safer and freer there to commit mass murder.

In particular with guns on campuses, he noted his bill would restrict guns to concealed weapons permit holders, meaning they have to be at least 21 and to have passed background checks. In other states that have such laws have had but four total gun incidents, so worries about angry students shooting it out, he said, absurd.

“Without evidence, why would you want the 2nd Amendment rights removed from people in this room and other places without any evidence?” Plakon demanded at another point.

That brought out Smith’s passion. In addition to being a being long-determined on gun restrictions, Smith is openly gay and was close to victims of last summer’s mass-shooting massacre at the popular Orlando gay nightclub Pulse, where 49 people were murdered and 53 wounded. He turned to Plakon in deep emotion Tuesday night.

“Rep. Plakon asked me what is the very good reason. Now the context of this discussion, to be clear, was actually assault weapons. I have a very good reason,” Smith said. “And I don’t think many of us have to guess what that good reason is. I do not believe that there is any circumstance and any legitimate civilian purpose for why the gunman at Pulse should have a Sig Sauer MCX that was able to fire 30 rounds nonstop without hesitation. Folks do not have the right to access these weapons of war and we are living with the unfortunate consequences, because this community, many of the people we know, our friends, our constituents, their lives are either no longer their own or have been ripped apart and destroyed by assault weapons. That is my very good reason.”

David Smith files to run in House District 28

Republican businessman David Smith announced Tuesday he has filed to run for Florida’s House District 28 in 2018, seeking the seat that will be vacated by the term limit of state Rep. Jason Brodeur.

Smith, 56, of Winter Springs, is a retired Marine Corps colonel and former director of the Marines simulation and modeling center in the University of Central Florida’s Research Park.

He ran against then-U.S. Rep. John Mica in the 2014 Republican primary, finishing second in a four-way race, with 19 percent. Mica got 72 percent.

Smith is the second candidate to enter the race for Brodeur’s seat, following 19-year-old Devin Guillermo Perez, a Democrat.

“Serving this country for over 30-years in the U.S. Marine Corps was one of the greatest honors of my life,” Smith stated in a news release. “During my time in the service, I saw firsthand how important it is to fight for democracy and defend our way of life.

“Now, I’m ready to continue my service as Central Florida’s conservative voice in the Florida House of Representatives, where I’ll fight to reduce veteran homelessness and unemployment and protect our conservative values,” said Smith.

Carlos Guillermo Smith, Gary Farmer seek to repeal ‘Docs vs. Glocks’

With Florida’s 2011 law forbidding doctors from talking to patients about guns struck down in federal appeals court, state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and state Sen. Gary Farmer are seeking to repeal it.

The law, introduced in 2011 by Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur of Sanford as the “Firearm Owners’ Privacy Act” has been derided by critics and most Democrats such as Smith and Farmer as the “Docs vs. Glocks” law. It makes it illegal for doctors to ask patients if they own guns. Doctors groups, who have almost universally opposed the law, argued such conversations can help doctors assess health risks, while the laws’ supporters argued such conversations were invasive and potential harassment.

Smith, of Orlando, introduced House Bill 6033 on Tuesday to repeal the law. Farmer, of Fort Lauderdale, has not yet filed his bill in the Senate but has signaled his intention.

Courts, most recently, two weeks ago, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta, concluded that the state trying to tell doctors what they can or cannot talk about is a violation of their 1st Amendment rights of freedom of speech. The law was initially ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in 2012, but an earlier appeals court decision reversed that. The full panel of the 11th Circuit voted 10-1 to reverse the decision back, invalidating the law.

“Once again, the courts have struck down an extreme and unconstitutional law passed by the Florida legislature,” Smith stated in a news release. “Physicians have the constitutionally-protected right, as well as the moral obligation to discuss commonsense gun safety precautions that protect patients and their families while in the home.

Smith cited a Feb. 23 report by the Tampa Bay Times that found that between 2010 and 2015, nearly 3,200 kids 17 and younger were killed or injured by firearms in Florida, and that the rates are increasing dramatically. He also cited suicide and domestic homicide statistics.

“On average, a child in Florida is shot every seventeen hours,” Smith added. “Repealing this law is an important step towards protecting our children and families from the growing epidemic of accidental gun shootings, while at the same time affirming the first and second amendment rights of both physicians and patients alike.”

SpaceX announces it will fly private astronauts around the moon soon

SpaceX announced Monday the company has plans to send two private citizen astronauts on a trip around the moon in late 2018.

SpaceX still is trying to get its program together to fly NASA astronauts to the International Space Station in a multi-billion contract with the nation’s space agency. And the company said in a release Monday that despite recent delays in its program due to two rockets blowing up in the past two years, he’s still targeting second-quarter of 2018 for the first NASA astronaut launch.

But there is nothing in NASA’s contract preventing SpaceX from also flying private astronauts and the company and company founder Elon Musk have said all along they intend to do so. The company touts the private launch opportunity as a way ago generate revenue that will reduce NASA’s costs, though critics of NASA’s private space program argues that the space agency is subsidizing private launches.

Like the NASA astronauts, the private astronauts would launch in a Crew Dragon capsule, from Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, which reopened earlier this month to become the company’s primary and private launch pad.

Unlike NASA’s space station astronauts, the private astronauts would go up atop a Falcon Heavy rocket, which SpaceX has not yet test launched.

“We are excited to announce that SpaceX has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the moon late next year,” SpaceX stated. “They have already paid a significant deposit to do a moon mission. Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration. We expect to conduct health and fitness tests, as well as begin initial training later this year.”

The private citizens have not yet been publicly identified. SpaceX said it also has other private citizen astronauts waiting in line behind them.

SpaceX plans to test launch its Falcon Heavy rocket this summer and its Crew Dragon capsule late this year.

A trip around the moon would be the farthest [and according to SpaceX the fastest] trip any astronaut has taken since the Apollo program ended in 1972.

“Once operational Crew Dragon missions are underway for NASA, SpaceX will launch the private mission on a journey to circumnavigate the moon and return to Earth,” the release stated. “This presents an opportunity for humans to return to deep space for the first time in 45 years and they will travel faster and further into the Solar System than any before them.”

Scott Plakon, Carlos Smith to duel in Young Dems’ guns panel

State Reps. Scott Plakon and Carlos Guillermo Smith – opposite sides on most gun rights debate in Tallahassee – will headline a debate panel being sponsored Tuesday by the Young Democrats of Orange County.

Plakon, a Republican from Longwood who has sponsored a guns on campus bill and supported open carry bills; and Smith, the Democrat from Orlando who has been a fiery advocate for gun control, especially since the Pulse nightclub massacre last summer, will be joined on the panel by conservative political commentator Michelle Ertel and University of Central Florida Professor Barry Mauer.

Local attorneys Earnest DeLoach and Eddie Fernandez will moderate the 6 p.m. discussion at the Gray Robinson office in downtown Orlando.

“We expect a lively discussion and a packed room because of the controversial nature this topic can arise from both sides of the debate,” Robert Walters, president of the Young Democrats of Orange County, stated in a news release. “In Orange County alone, we have lived through Pulse, the recent shootings of police officers, and several scares at the nation’s second largest university, UCF. We think it is important hearing from both sides of the debate, even though Democrats generally are in favor of tighter gun laws, however we want to thank all who are participating in the debate.”

The event is sold out and YDOC expects a crowded room. The event will be live-streamed on YDOC’s Facebook page, which can be found at facebook.com/electyoungdems.

Philip Levine: Space Coast should be Florida’s Silicon Valley

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine believes Florida’s Space Coast is the state’s unique opportunity to capture 21st Century technology. He wants to see it become the Sunshine State’s Silicon Valley.

Levine, a potential Democratic gubernatorial candidate, sees his vision as not unlike that already pursued by officials at Space Florida and the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast, as well as by some within NASA.

Should he run for governor, Levine may be the first statewide candidate to explicitly focus on the region anchored by Kennedy Space Center as a primary place for Florida technology innovation.

“With the right state government, we could turn NASA into the most exciting innovation zone, and it could become Florida’s Silicon Valley,” Levine said in an interview with FloridaPolitics.com.

“Every company involved in space should have a presence there. And every university in the state of Florida should be attracted to NASA. We need to own that space,” Levine said.

In fact, Space Florida, the state-chartered space business promotion arm, joined by the Space Coast EDC, have been pursuing such prospects.

The University of Central Florida and the University of Florida have rapidly-growing space technology research programs, as do several other institutions including the University of South Florida and Florida Institute of Technology.

The Space Coast – from Titusville to Melbourne and including Kennedy and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station – is evolving from a place known for 50 years almost exclusively for launching government rockets.

Now it has become a place now with mostly private rocket launches, with small, medium and large space companies involved in everything from rocket engine research to satellites are setting up shop. But, for the most part, investments are relatively modest compared with what those companies in states that have been longtime centers of the space industry and research, such as California, Texas, and Virginia.

Legacy space companies such as Boeing and Lockheed Martin and “New Space” companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin have operations, some large, and some growing, in and around Kennedy. Most of these enterprises’ research, manufacturing and corporate offices remain elsewhere.

Levine said the state needs to get more involved in trying to change that.

“You need to sit with Jeff Bezos. You need to sit with Musk. You need to sit with all the smaller ones. We’ve got to ask them: ‘What do you need to make this area the most top innovation zone?'” Levine said. “You need to create all those incentives around NASA. You can’t afford not to. And you’ve got to create that buzz, energy.”

Levine is a believer in states offering targeted business incentives, something Space Florida does with transportation money. He believes far more can (and should) be done in the Space Coast.

That puts him closer in economic philosophy to Republican Gov. Rick Scott than to many Democrats, or for that matter to many Republicans who believe Florida’s business incentives programs have gotten out of control. That starts with Speaker Richard Corcoran, the Republican from Land ‘O Lakes who wants to cut them entirely.

Corcoran and Levine both spoke at a breakfast meeting of the Central Florida Urban League last Friday, taking jabs at one another over their positions on incentives.

In his interview, Levine jabbed back, calling Corcoran “Nikita Khrushchev,” referring to the Soviet president of the 1950s and 60s, charging that the speaker seeks centralized control of how the state invests in business.

“You’ve heard when Nikita Khrushchev the speaker, talked about how he doesn’t want to help industry, doesn’t want to help business,” Levine said. “You know: ‘Mr. No, I’m Mr. Yes.’ We took Miami Beach from the city that starts with ‘No’ to the city that starts with ‘Yes.’ The state of Florida needs to be the state that starts with ‘yes.'”


After life on Orlando streets, Aloma Charter High gives teen renewed focus

Six months ago, 18-year-old Joseph Tello was homeless and living without much thought or hope for his future.

But after finally finding a friend willing to provide him a stable residence and being referred to  Aloma Charter High School, his hope is being restored and he is getting back on track to earning a high school diploma and accomplishing aspirations of going on to college.

While his future is bright, his origins are fraught with trouble, and he’s eager to move on. Tello’s household offered no real peace — his father struggling with substance abuse issues; his mother was “callous” and “unresponsive” in ways a parent shouldn’t be.

That environment became toxic.

Tello fell behind in the high school he was attending. He became lethargic and depressed, turning to substance abuse, justifying it by saying it runs “in the blood” of his family.

Eventually, he broke ties with his parents, taking to the streets. For a time his only reprieve was sleeping on couches of various friends.

Other things he experienced, he said, were too horrible to recount.

“It’s too personal,” Tello added. “It’s painful to remember.”

Eventually, through a friend who he’s now living with, he found his way out of that life.

“I would talk to people about my life, and they’d try to provide help,” Tello said. “Someone took me in and gave me shelter, they care about my education and goals.”

No longer abusing drugs, Tello is glad to be getting back on track at Aloma High. At 18 years old with less than half of his high school credits earned, the teacher directed technology enhanced classrooms at Aloma High are providing him an opportunity to catch up where he had fallen so far behind. The individualized attention and intensive personal supports are helping him overcome the many challenges he faces while building the resiliency he will need to continue a path toward success.

 Now that Tello has graduation in his sights, he is looking even further ahead. He intends to enroll in college with the ultimate goal of being a doctor. “I’m immensely interested in human biology,” he said. “I want to be a cardiovascular surgeon because of my interests as well as my past.”

He said Aloma High is helping him out in ways his previous schools just couldn’t— a more personal style which suits him. Traditional high school, by contrast (and design), could not accommodate the pressure and stress of Tello’s home life the way Aloma High does.

“At Aloma, everyone helps you plan to get somewhere with your education. It’s changed my view on charter schools.”

Aloma High is one of a network of five dropout prevention and recovery high schools in Orange County. The schools are designed to serve students between the ages of 16-21 who have dropped out of high school or are at high risk of dropping out. With a significant focus on building basic skills, providing intensive social service support, and post-secondary planning, the schools’ mission is to help at-risk students graduate and prepare for post-secondary success.


Eric Eisnaugle closes down 2018 campaign

Orlando Republican Rep. Eric Eisnaugle has officially dropped his 2018 re-election bid according to documents posted with the Florida Division of Elections.

Eisnaugle also filed paperwork to step down as the chairman of the PAC Committee for Justice and Economic Freedom, appointing Joseph Clements in his place. The committee hadn’t brought in any money since July, though it had about $135,000 cash on hand at the end of January.

The Orange County representative also had about $20,000 in his campaign account when he dropped out. That money will have to be disposed of within 90 days of closing down the campaign.

As FloridaPolitics.com reported earlier this week, Eisnaugle is one of several candidates vying to succeed C. Alan Lawson, who left his post on Florida’s Fifth District Court of Appeal when he was appointed to the Florida Supreme Court in December.

Eisnaugle was first elected to the House back in 2008, but opted not to run for re-election after his second term when redistricting put him up against fellow Republican Steve Precourt. After two years out of office, Eisnaugle came back to the House in 2014 and was re-elected in 2016.

Aramis Ayala pledges change in how circuit considers death penalty cases

In a debate Thursday between Orlando’s top prosecutor and public defender, new State Attorney Aramis Ayala said she is looking at rethinking how the 9th Judicial Circuit considers death penalty cases, while Public Defender Bob Wesley urged her not to change policies.

Ayala, elected on a judicial reform platform last fall as the top prosecutor for the Orange and Osceola counties’ 9th Circuit, told the Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida that she intends to have her office review policies dictating when to pursue death penalty prosecutions, and when to not.

“I think it is something that has to be addressed. I admit that our system is broken and we need to have something in place, a process by which we determine whether or not to proceed,” Ayala said.

Wesley, whose office clearly opposes death penalty prosecutions, responded by defending the recent past practices of the 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney’s Office He essentially argued that the system there has not been broken, that he prefers it to what’s going on in other parts of the state, and that he’s very concerned if Ayala intends to change things.

“We’ve had a very, very rational approach to the death penalty in our community for many years,” said Wesley.

“It has not been sought randomly or capriciously here,” Wesley continued. “There’s room for good dialogue. But if the prosecutor tries to ratchet it up and said she is seeking death, she just spent a half million dollars of your money for our preparation. And by doing it as a negotiation ploy, to not pull off it the day before a trial is worrisome. We have not had that culture here.

Ayala takes over from State Attorney Jeff Ashton, a fellow Democrat who also ran on a reform platform when he was elected in 2012. The death penalty cases that Wesley’s office is dealing with, and has dealt with for most of the past four years, came from Ashton’s policies.

‘The cases I have with death penalties right now, are guys that are 50 or older, that have prior homicides,” Wesley told Tiger Bay. “That might be the kind of case that might be, in most any jurisdiction, targeted. And we’re not giving up on any of them, and we’re working them up. But we don’t have 23 year olds that had a bad argument with someone else.”

Ayala did not get a chance to follow up, and when asked later to clarify her statements about a broken system and her expectations for reform, she declined to elaborate for now.

The issue offered what was perhaps the strongest difference between Ayala and Wesley, also a Democrat, though the two dug into their natural confrontational positions on a few other points ranging from domestic violence prosecutions to hit-and-run prosecutions.

Still, the death penalty case may have raised confusing assumptions, based on who Ayala is, and the judicial reform pledges she had made during her 2016 campaign and to which she renewed pledges Thursday.

Ayala is the first African American state attorney in Florida’s history. She has expressed sympathy for the Black Lives Matter movement and concern for judicial reform involving minority communities, saying that she cannot un-see, un-unexperience or unlearn all that she has seen, experienced and learned as a black woman.

Yet much of criticism of the death penalty has surrounded its typical disproportionate application to black and other minority suspects. It’s possible the reform Ayala is considering  would amount to reining in its use even more, but she did not say.

During the meeting, she said said that when her office develops new guidelines, she will go public with full disclosure.

“That is something not to be taken lightly. I don’t take it lightly,” she said. “And I will present what our office comes up with when the time permits.”

Stephanie Murphy unites 150+ Congress members calling for response on Jewish centers threats

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy called Wednesday for federal authorities to respond swiftly and strongly to threats made to Jewish centers throughout the nation and got more than 150 of her colleagues to sign on.

Murphy and U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley, a New York Democrat who chairs the House Democratic Conference, sent the letter to Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey expressing “deep concern regarding the recent spate of anonymous bomb threats made via telephone against Jewish Community Centers” and urged them to swiftly assess the situation and advise Congress about what is going on.

She also called for prosecutions and efforts to deter threats and to assist centers to enhance security.

“This is not an idle concern, given that there have been at least three casualty-causing attacks at JCCs or other Jewish institutions in the last two decades,” she added, referring to the shootings in Kansas, Seattle and California. “This is a national problem and, as such, it requires a national solution.”

The letter makes no explicit reference to rising concerns about a new wave of anti-Semitism in America, nor does it make any criticism of President Donald Trump for not explicitly condemning anti-Semitism, as many of her colleagues have charged.

It notes there have been at least 68 incidents targeting 53 Jewish centers in 26 states, according to the JCC Association of North America.

That includes the Roth Family JCC of Greater Orlando, which is one of several centers to have received multiple threats.

Among the signatories are U.S. Reps. Val Demings, Darren Soto, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Alcee Hastings, Charlie Crist, Ted Deutch, Frederica Wilson, Lois Frankel, Mario Diaz-Balart, Gus Bilirakis, and Kathy Castor of the Florida delegation. The vast majority in a list of the first 116 signatories, provided with an accompanying press release, are Democrats, though at least 15, including Diaz-Balart and Bilirakis, are Republicans.

“These bomb threats are unacceptable,” Murphy stated in the press release. “Federal law enforcement agencies must do everything within their power to punish those responsible for the threats that have already taken place, to prevent future threats from occurring, and to ensure these threats are never converted into action.”

The release notes that her letter received applause from several major Jewish organizations, including the Jewish Federation of North America, the JCC Association of North America and the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando.

“The Roth Family JCC of Greater Orlando is grateful for our representatives coming to our aid in this time of need,” Ronnie Bitman, board president of the Roth Family JCC of Greater Orlando stated in the news release. “Our community center’s roots are strong, having provided for the central Florida community for nearly forty-five years, and now, with the advocacy of our elected leaders, we will remain strong and steadfast in implementing our mission of building community, strengthening family life, and promoting Jewish values.”

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