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Senate President Joe Negron is joined by Senate Democratic leader Oscar Braynon II, D-Miami Gardens, as they wait to walk to the rotunda to meet their House counterparts after adjourning the extended 2017 legislative session Sine Die, Monday at the Capitol in Tallahassee. COLIN HACKLEY PHOTO

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Sexual harassment training mandate for senators heads to Senate floor

Florida senators could soon be required to complete one-hour mandatory sexual harassment training every year as part of a new policy change advanced Thursday that came amid calls for overhauling the chamber’s handling of sexual harassment complaints.

Intensifying bipartisan talk to improve the Senate’s sexual harassment policy began last year after two former senators, Jeff Clemens and Jack Latvala, were accused of sexual misconduct, and a top Senate staffer filed a formal complaint against Latvala detailing sexual harassment over four years.

Awareness of sexual harassment at the Capitol spiked after two separate Senate investigations into Latvala’s misconduct laid out the testimony of dozens of women claiming to have been sexually harassed and at least one female lobbyists saying the Clearwater Republican was willing to trade his support for legislation for a “sexual encounter.”

According to the report, she said she “finally left her work as a lobbyist in large part so (she) would never have to owe (Latvala) anything.”

The month-long investigations conducted by a special master recommended sexual harassment training for Senate members and staff, and a review of the overall Senate culture.

In the midst of these investigations, Senate Rules Chair Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto was tasked with revising the Senate administrative policies regarding harassment after Senate President Joe Negron faces backlash for making policy changes that some said would make it harder to report sexual or workplace harassment.

“I want to make it even more abundantly clear to employees that they can and should report sexual or workplace harassment to anyone they feel comfortable speaking with,” Negron said.

Benacquisto met with several senators to gather input and on Thursday the Rules Committee unanimously voted to mandate annual sexual harassment training for senators. The policy change now heads to the full Senate floor for final approval.

Miami Democrat Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez was among the senators Benacquisto met with. He advocated for anti-harassment training — something the Florida House already mandates — as well as a clear definition that bans “retaliatory behavior” when a complaint is filed.

“The Senate took a step in the right direction by voting to require ethics trainings on sexual harassment, but it is not enough,” Rodriguez said. “Retaliation is still not defined and prohibited.”

Rodriguez took a jab at the defense tactics by Latvala as he faces anonymous allegations. His behavior even sparked a formal Rules complaint by Sen. Lauren Book who alleged he was interfering with the Senate investigation.

“The retaliatory actions taken by Senator Latvala to subvert the investigation into his misconduct still would not have been explicitly prohibited,” Rodriguez said.

“We must do more to ensure that everyone that works at and visits the Capitol feels safe.”

Written By

Ana covers politics and policy for Florida Politics. Before joining Florida Politics, she was the legislative relief reporter for The Associated Press and covered policy issues impacting immigration, the environment, criminal justice and social welfare in Florida. She holds a B.A. in journalism from San Diego State University. After graduating in 2014, she worked as a criminal justice reporter for the Monterey Herald and the Monterey County Weekly. She has also freelanced for The Washington Post at the U.S.-Mexico border covering crime in the border city of Tijuana, where she grew up. Ana is fluent in Spanish and has intermediate proficiency in Portuguese.

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