Gov. Rick Scott’s final State of the State address to state lawmakers touted his record on tax cuts, job creation and Florida’s growing economy.
But he also touched on an issue that has made headlines over the past couple of months in Tallahassee — sexual harassment.
“With the help of all of you in this room, we passed a law to protect state employees who were victims of sexual harassment,” Scott told lawmakers referring to a law passed last year by the Legislature to protect the identity of sexual harassment victims. “Working together, we took a step forward to protect those in state government who were victimized. But, it is clear that more must be done.”
Scott was referring to the sexual harassment case against former state senator Jack Latvala who resigned from the Senate last week after being accused by a Senate staff member, Rachel Perrin Rogers, of making lewd comments to her and touching her inappropriately. Perrin Rogers went public with her identity after she accused Latvala of trying to intimidate her and leaking her identity to reporters.
“I want to ensure the identities of these brave individuals are protected so they feel encouraged to participate in investigations,” Scott told lawmakers.
Earlier in the morning, Senate President Joe Negron addressed the chamber and had his own message to members regarding sexual harassment.
“I would like to begin today by addressing a very important issue that addresses not only the Florida Senate, but also our counterparts in Congress, the entertainment industry, employers large and small across the country, and our culture in general,” Negron said.
“Let me be clear: The Florida Senate has zero tolerance for sexual harassment or misconduct of any time against any employee or visitor,” Negron added.
Just before Negron delivered his remarks, two other senators issued a statement apologizing for their actions, seeming to admit to having an extramarital affair. Sen. Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, and Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, said they were sorry for a friendship that “evolved to a level that we deeply regret.”
“As this 2018 session of the Florida Legislature gets underway, we do not want gossip and rumors to distract from the important business of the people. That’s why we are issuing this brief statement to acknowledge that our longtime friendship evolved to a level that we deeply regret,” Braynon and Flores said in their joint statement. “We have sought the forgiveness of our families, and also seek the forgiveness of our constituents and God. We ask everyone else to respect and provide our families the privacy that they deserve as we move past this to focus on the important work ahead.”
Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, is the chair of the Senate Rules committee and has spent the past couple of months revising the Senate’s administrative policies regarding sexual harassment.
She was asked whether the recent reports regarding to sexual harassment and sexual misconduct could overshadow the Legislature during its 60 day session.
“We’re all elected officials who stand in the public square and we do that willingly,” Benacquisto responded. “We all have an obligation to behave in a way that honors time away from our family and service on behalf of our constituents.”
She took exception to the idea that the recent cases involving sexual relations could have a chilling effect on the conduct of state business during the session.
“There are an extraordinarily large number of people who do business and do business well. And the business of the Senate and the business of the Legislature will go on,” she added. “We will all conduct our business and do the work of the people.”