A push to make anti-sexual-harassment training mandatory in the Senate gathered momentum Monday after Democratic Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez sent a letter to Senate President Joe Negron urging him for a “more aggressive” sexual harassment policy.
The letter comes after six unnamed women accused Sen. Jack Latvala of sexually harassing and groping them, according to a POLITICO Florida report on Friday, and following the resignation of Sen. Jeff Clemens, a close ally of Latvala, after he admitted to an affair with a lobbyist.
“We must do more. Our legislature should be governed by standards at least as rigorous as other large public and private institutions or, I believe, by higher standards,” Rodriguez wrote in a letter to Negron.
Rodriguez wants to see the Senate implement an outreach program “to call and visit all Senate offices — and make the resources available to those who work at the Capitol but are not State employees.”
This change, he says, is meant to help victims come forward when they are harassed by members, staff or lobbyists. Negron said last week he is not aware of “formal or informal” sexual harassment complaints made in the Senate.
“There is no defense for there being no complaints,” Rodriguez told Florida Politics.
“In order to be a complaint we have to be a safe place for those complaints to be received,” he added. “It is not easy to come forward, specifically in a place that for many is hostile.
Rodriguez said he wants the policy to say in “unequivocal terms that retaliation for complaints will not be tolerated.”
Sens. Lizbeth Benacquisto and Lauren Book, who acknowledge that they too have been victims of sexual harassment, have also spoken out against it happening “in the halls of power.”
“We are here to say that you are not to blame,” the legislators said in a joint statement. “If you have been hurt of exploited, let your voice be heard.”
“Come forward. Make a report and get the help you deserve to heal and to be protected. It is crucial that you find your strength and use your voice,” the statement said. “As long as we are here, you will be heard, and we will do all that we can to help.”
In his letter Monday, Rodriguez praised Negron for revisiting the sexual harassment policy which was changed on Oct. 27. The change would have required sexual harassment reporting to go directly to leadership.
“It is positive that Negron walked that back, it is absolutely the wrong thing to require people to report to leadership rather than give people a number of avenues to report allegations,” Rodriguez said.
Rodriguez also wants the Senate to provide mental health counselors for those affected by sexual harassment. He added there is no reason why the changes shouldn’t be implemented immediately.
“Nothing stops us from doing it before Session,” Rodriguez said.