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Three Knights are competing for a seat in the Florida House of Representatives this year and one may just end up representing their school in the state legislature.

UCF lies in the 49th State House District which is currently represented by Rene “Coach P” Plasencia, who will be running to represent district 50 this year. The three UCF-related candidates are Amber Mariano (R), Shea Silverman (NPA) and Carlos Guillermo Smith (D). A fourth candidate, Martin Collins (R), was not available for comment.

The primary election for the Florida House of Representatives is right around the corner and will take place on Aug. 30. In an effort to keep UCF students informed, the Central Florida Future spoke with the candidates.

EXPERIENCE

Mariano, a senior political science major, recently interned with Plasencia during the 2015 legislative session. In high school, Mariano served as president of the National Honor Society, yearbook editor-in-chief and played three different sports.

The diplomacy minor said she was subconsciously inspired to run by her father Jack Mariano, who is the current County Commissioner of Pasco County. Mariano said she’s running because she wants to change the way things are currently done.

“I feel like instead of sitting and complaining about why things are messed up, I want to be the person that can, you know, eventually fix it,” Mariano said.

Silverman, a graduate interdisciplinary student with a focus on nonprofit management and e-learning, graduated from UCF in 2008 with a bachelor’s degree in public administration. He currently works at UCF as a computer programmer.

Silverman took part in the UCF Legislative Scholarship Program during his undergrad years and worked with Congressman Bill Posey (R), then a Florida senator, during the 2007 legislative session. Silverman received his associate degree from FAU, where he served as a Student Government Association senator for two years, then moved on to be the SGA director of Information Technology and webmaster for two more years.

Guillermo Smith graduated from UCF in 2003 with a bachelor’s degree in marketing but was inspired to enter politics in 2008 during the Barack Obama campaign. Guillermo Smith worked as a legislative aid and chief of staff for Representative Scott Randolph in 2011 and then became the communications director and senior adviser for the Joe Saunders 2012 campaign. Guillermo Smith continued to work for Saunders for two more years, running the legislative office and working as Saunders’ policy chief.

Guillermo Smith was the Orange County Democratic Party Chair for 2013, 2014 and part of 2015 and is currently the government affairs manager for Equality Florida.

TUITION

Mariano wants to restructure Bright Futures and possibly institute a waiver for students to avoid the excess credit hour surcharge, a fee instituted by Gov. Rick Scott that forces students pay up to 200 percent more in tuition once they exceed 110 percent of the required credit hours for their degree. Mariano said that, alternatively, she may try to increase the percentage from 110 percent of credit hours to 120 percent or more.

“Some things I’ve noticed in the State House is that Bright Futures doesn’t cover summer tuition even though we’re mandated to take summer classes,” Mariano said. “I don’t even think it’s about putting more money in; it’s about restricting the program because, either way, Bright Futures is going to cover 120 credit hours for students. Whether it’s over summer, spring or fall, that’s really gonna be an issue for students.”

Mariano’s waiver for the excess credit hour surcharge would apply to students who are double majoring or who are pursuing degrees that take more than 150 credit hours. Mariano plans to file legislation on this during the first legislative session of her term.

Silverman wants to completely get rid of the excess credit hour surcharge and has plans to file legislation regarding the rising prices of tuition and fees.

“All [students] want to do is finish,” Silverman said. “You know, no matter what school, they want to finish. They want to get that degree. They want to get that paper. They’ve put in their hours; they’re working really hard at this. To just hit them while they’re down and charge even more, it’s not helping them.”

Silverman added that he would file legislation that would allow students to take as many credit hours as they want, without imposing additional fees. He said he’s willing to compromise if necessary and get rid of the excess credit hour surcharge entirely only for the first degree. Silverman said the “nickel and diming” of students needs to be stopped.

“I think the big issue is affordability,” Silverman said. “It’s awesome that we’re doing all these programs and we’re trying to grow as fast as we are. We want to get everyone into college — let’s make it affordable.”

He said he also wants to do away with one-time-use textbook access codes, so much so that this would be the focus of the first bill he plans to file.

Guillermo Smith plans to restructure funding for Bright Futures and file legislation on day one that restores the pre-2009 standards of the program.

“In our campaign, I would say the No. 1 issue is reinvesting in the Bright Futures Scholarship Program,” Guillermo Smith said. “For me it’s personal. It’s personal because I wouldn’t have a four-year degree from UCF, as a proud UCF alumnus, had it not been for Bright Futures.”

Guillermo Smith said that funding for Bright Futures was cut in 2009 as a response to the economic downturn and the standards to qualify for Bright Futures were increased exponentially to intentionally defund the program.

“But really what was sad is that as a result of those changes when they increased the standards, minority students were disproportionately impacted,” Guillermo Smith said. “… The bottom line is we need to reinvest in it because I believe there is no single issue that creates more economic opportunity for young people than affordable access to a college degree.”

Guillermo Smith said he would be interested in considering block tuition as long as state funding to universities was increased. Block tuition is when students who are enrolled in at least 12 credit hours pay the tuition for only 12 credit hours. Guillermo Smith said this could potentially lead to bigger class sizes and decreases in education quality if universities aren’t provided with funding from the state to offset costs generated from classes that students aren’t paying tuition for.

GUNS ON CAMPUS

Mariano said she would like to legalize guns on campus, as she believes every student has the right to defend themselves.

“It has been shown on several occasions that by having a no-gun policy does not stop gun violence from occurring,” Mariano said. “With that being said, I think students who are 21-plus with a concealed-carry permit should be able to exercise their constitutional right to [bear] arms if they feel necessary.”

Currently, UCF students are allowed to keep a gun in their locked car if they have a concealed-carry permit, also known as a CCP. Mariano said that while the option for students to keep a gun in their locked car is a valuable opportunity, she doesn’t think it’s enough as students aren’t always within range of their vehicle or may not even be in possession of a vehicle.

Silverman doesn’t believe guns belong on campus.

“I grew up around guns,” Silverman said. “I have guns. I have pistols, I have rifles … I grew up around them with respect and a healthy fear. There are some places guns don’t belong; one of those, I think, is on campus.”

He said that locking your gun in your car is enough and that he doesn’t believe there’s a need for such a lethal force on an educational campus.

Guillermo Smith said he’s absolutely opposed to guns on campus and believes it’s a bad idea to have guns on campus or in the classroom.

“There’s an increased frequency of drug and alcohol abuse and you know, students are young,” Guillermo Smith said. “Even though you have to be 21 to get a concealed weapons permit, the environment a college campus creates is not one that’s conducive to being able to carry a firearm.”

He said the belief that a “good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun” isn’t realistic.

“The reality is that the facts have never demonstrated that,” he said. “… To get a concealed weapons license in Florida, there are minimal training requirements in Florida. So, the idea that someone with a concealed weapons permit can be trained enough to be in a volatile, high-stress situation and be trained enough to neutralize the situation, become a hero, is not realistic. The UCF Police Department is very well equipped to handle situations like that, and you know, they have.”

MINIMUM WAGE

Mariano said she doesn’t plan on increasing the minimum wage but will work to reduce regulation that could potentially stunt small businesses to help increase job creation.

“I don’t think the focus should be on raising minimum wage because by doing that it will make it harder for small businesses to create jobs,” Mariano said. “We should be focused on making it easy for local businesses to flourish so that they can hire the residents of our community.”

Silverman said he wants to increase the minimum wage and that it should be tied directly to inflation

“I think $15 is great but that it should be up to the state to decide because every state has a totally different cost of living,” Silverman said. “… You shouldn’t not be able to afford to live and have healthcare and eat and clothe yourself and have the basic necessities if you’re working an honest 40 hours a week. There’s no reason.”

Silverman said he plans to introduce legislation regarding a minimum wage increase on day one but would continue to analyze the cost of living across Orlando and adjust the minimum wage as necessary.

Guillermo Smith supports raising minimum wage.

He said Orlando was rated dead last when it came to wages, according to the United States Department of Labor.

“We can fix this so that Floridians who work 40 hours a week don’t have to live in poverty,” according to Guillermo Smith’s website. “Increasing the minimum wage to a statewide living wage will put more money in hard working people’s pockets where they’ll spend it, which grows the economy and creates jobs, while saving taxpayers who won’t be forced to subsidize low wages with food stamps, Medicaid and low-income housing.”

MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION

Mariano said she believes medicinal marijuana should be legalized so that patients can potentially lead “better, less painful lives,” but once that’s accomplished, decriminalization of the drug should follow suit.

Silverman said he wants to legalize marijuana for recreational use in Florida, much in the same way it’s legalized in Colorado.

“Let’s legalize it, let’s tax the hell out of it then let’s take all that tax money that we’re gonna get from that and put it right back into education,” Silverman said.

Guillermo Smith said he plans to decriminalize marijuana.

Marijuana was recently decriminalized in the city of Orlando, but it’s up to the individual officer to determine whether or not to arrest someone for the possession of 20 grams or less or to issue the offender with a civil citation.

Guillermo Smith said he plans to make the civil citation the mandatory response.

Guillermo Smith said leaving the citation issuance up to the officer’s discretion could lead to discriminatory practices against minorities.

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Alissa Smith is the News Editor for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @thealissasmith or email her at AlissaS@centralfloridafuture.com.

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