Florida lawmakers just wrapped up another week of committee meetings in Tallahassee in advance of the legislative session that’s scheduled to start in January. While legislators focus on the issues, it’s difficult to ignore the elephant in the room, or, in this case, the Senate chambers.
“You have two investigations that are running their course now,” said Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who is slated to be Senate president next year if Republicans maintain control of the chamber. “Everybody’s aware that’s going on, but trying to continue to do the work of the Senate and be respectful to the due process that’s taking place. Everybody’s aware of it, but we’re still plugging through the committee hearings.”
It’s been two weeks since six unidentified women came forward and told Politico Florida that they had been sexually harassed by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, who at the time held the powerful position of Senate Appropriations chairman.
Another woman filed a complaint with the Senate Rules Committee alleging she had also been sexually harassed by Latvala.
All of the accusers have maintained their anonymity.
The women claim that Latvala had either made inappropriate comments to them or had inappropriately touched them. The senator has admitted he may have made suggestive comments, but claims he never touched anyone inappropriately.
Latvala, who announced in August he was running for governor, insists the sexual harassment charges are politically motivated.
Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart, announced last week that Jackson Lewis P.C., a nationwide employment law firm, had been retained to conduct the investigation of the sexual harassment claims against Latvala. The firm’s Tampa-based Gail Golman Holtzman is handling the investigation.
“I believe the senator who has been accused will be given the opportunity to face his accuser or accusers and that due process will be given,” said Sen. David Simmons, R-Longwood. “The Senate will deal with this in an appropriate manner with due process given to both the accuser and the senator. I am satisfied that the process will work and that we will remain calm rather than deal with it with hysteria. It’s amazing what happens when you deal with things with resolute calmness and assure that justice is done.”
Latvala has been removed as budget chairman pending the investigation. Some members say if the senator is cleared of any wrongdoing he should be reinstated as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“That’s why you have due process. If he’s cleared of any wrongdoing then he should be treated as if nothing happened,” said Sen. Galvano.
Latvala was replaced as budget chair by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Orange Park.
“We’re working diligently to prepare a budget that the people of the state of Florida can be proud of and we’ve hit the ground running and people sent us here to do a job and we’re doing it,” said Sen. Bradley.
But, Bradley stopped short of saying Latvala should get his budget job back if he’s cleared of the sexual harassment charges.
“I’m not going to comment on anything associated with that investigation or anything to do with that. There’s a process that they’re going through right now, but we’re focused on our jobs,” Bradley said.
Some close to the Tallahassee political process believe Latvala will never regain his title of Senate Appropriations chair, even if he is cleared of the sexual harassment allegations.
“I don’t think he gets his chairmanship back either way,” said Chris Dudley, a lobbyist for the Southern Strategies Group.
“I think what we’re going to see is Chairman Bradley really developing his expertise around the appropriations process and issues,” added Katie Webb, a lobbyist for Colodny Fass. ”I think you’ll see him fall into a rhythm of negotiating with his house counterparts on different areas of the budget. I think it would be very, very difficult to interrupt that and change basically the rhythm we would normally see during the session.”
Dudley and Webb made their comments on this week’s episode of The Capitolist television show which airs Thursdays at 11:00 on WTLH-TV in Tallahassee. A clip from the show can be seen below.