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Law enforcement reviewing Jack Latvala sexual misconduct case

The state’s law enforcement agency is reviewing sexual misconduct allegations against Sen. Jack Latvala outlined in two Florida Senate investigations that concluded he may have violated state corruption laws by offering to support legislation in exchange of “a sexual encounter.”

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said Wednesday it is conducting a “preliminary review” of the allegations, a move that was recommended by special master Ronald V. Swanson, who conducted an investigation into a formal complaint by Senate staffer Rachel Perrin Rogers.

As Swanson interviewed witnesses, one of them “seemingly confirmed in text messages” that Latvala was willing to trade physical contact or sexual intimacy for legislative favors, an allegation that could violate state public corruption laws.

The Senate complied with Swanson’s recommendation and turned over “certain testimony in his report” to law enforcement, according to the Senate’s communications director, Katie Betta.

“Regarding the Senate’s investigation into Senator Latvala, Tallahassee Police Department received the initial information and provided the information to FDLE,” said Gretl Plessinger, a spokesperson for the department.

On the same day FDLE said the case was being reviewed, a second report from Tampa-based attorney Gail Holtzman looking into anonymous claims of sexual harassment against the veteran lawmaker was released.

Latvala resigned shortly after.

The second report included testimony from several women, one of whom said she was “worn down” from his sexual advances.

“He grabbed her buttocks, kissed her mouth, and put his hand in the top of her dress, grunted in her ear, and made a sexual comment,” Holtzman’s report said. “She states that she tried to stop his advances, but he wore her down.”

Latvala’s attorney, Steve Andrews, said he still has concerns about how the Senate handled the investigation, and that the powerful senator did not have a chance to defend himself against public corruption allegations, which Andrews called “misguided.”

He said Latvala would “most likely” take the case to Circuit Court because his due process rights were violated in the Senate’s investigative process.

Jack Latvala sexual harassment probe could lead to criminal charges

UPDATE – JACK LATVLA HAS RESIGNED. That story is here.

Updates before the resignation:

— A second investigation into sexual harassment claims against Jack Latvala, prompted by a POLITICO Florida story, has turned up a witness who bolsters an allegation that the senator would offer to trade sex for favorable votes on legislation. That story is developing.

— Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday morning called on Latvala to resign from the Florida Senate. That story is here.

— Latvala’s attorney, Steve Andrews, said his client didn’t know about a quid pro quo allegation that the senator offered his favorable vote for legislation in return for sexual favors. That story is here.

— The Senate has turned evidence against Latvala over to law enforcement, a move recommended as part of an independent investigation into sexual harassment allegations against the veteran lawmaker. That story from POLITICO is here.

— The senator posted on Facebook that he’s not going to let politics spoil his family’s Christmas. That story is here.


Sen. Jack Latvala “on multiple occasions” offered to trade his vote for sex with a female lobbyist, according to a report released Tuesday by the Senate, which recommends the sexual harassment allegations against the veteran lawmaker be investigated by criminal prosecutors.

The bombshell finding came toward the end of Special Master Ronald V. Swanson‘s report into a complaint filed by Rachel Perrin Rogers, a top legislative aide for future Senate President Sen. Wilton Simpson, in which she accused Latvala of sexually harassing her and assaulting her. (That report is below.)

After interviewing dozens of witnesses for more than a month, Swanson found probable cause that Latvala has “inappropriate physical contact” with Perrin Rogers, pushing forward an investigation that could lead to the powerful senator’s expulsion.

“The evidence demonstrated a progression in conduct, over time, from unwelcome comments and nonverbal behavior to unwelcome touching,” Swanson wrote in the report.

Testimony about the votes-for-sex accusation, however, “raises issues of public corruption and ethics violations not within the scope of this report,” Swanson wrote. The allegation “is supported by explicit text messages.”

Allegations of “quid pro quo conduct (physical contact or sexual intimacy in exchange for support of legislative initiatives) made by a witness other than the complainant …, appear to violate ethics rules, and may violate laws prohibiting public corruption,” he added, recommending “these allegations be immediately referred to law enforcement for further investigation.”

“I just did not foresee this going down this way. None of my legal team foresaw this going down this way. I really thought we were in pretty good shape,” Latvala told the Times/Herald Tuesday night. “I’ve got to figure out how much I’ve got to spend, and how much emotion I want to put in it, since I’m term-limited anyway.

“I can fight this, and we can fight about it all session,” he added. ” … I haven’t even read the whole complaint. I just skimmed through it … I’ve got to see what the next step is.” Latvala has stepped down from his influential perch as Senate Appropriations Committee chairman while the investigation is underway.

Swanson, a retired appellate judge, interviewed an unnamed Senate employee who previously worked as a lobbyist and has known the 66-year-old Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, since 1995. Her name was edited out of the report released to the public.

“For a number of years, (she) had a close personal relationship with Sen. Latvala that was, at times, intimate. (She) testified that when Latvala became engaged to his current wife, she thought the sexual nature of her relationship with (him) would stop. It did not,” the report said.

From 2015 through 2017, Latvala “touched and groped her in an unwelcome manner every time she went to his office, and she believed tolerating such behavior was part of her job as a lobbyist,” according to the report.

“Latvala placed his hands up her dress, touched the outside of her underwear at her vaginal area, her buttocks, and her breasts,” it said.

Latvala also “expressly intimated to her on multiple occasions, that if she engaged in sexual acts or allowed him to touch her body in a sexual manner he would support particular legislative items for which she was lobbying,” Swanson wrote. The woman told him she “felt it was something (Latvala) felt entitled to.”

The most recent text message “purportedly from Latvala concerning possible support for legislation in exchange for a sexual encounter was sent in February of 2016,” the report said. The woman “testified she finally left her work as a lobbyist in large part so she would never have to owe (Latvala) anything.”

The female employee told Swanson she doesn’t Perrin Rogers know well, but her “testimony is corroborative of allegations contained in Ms. Rogers sworn complaint,” according to his report.

The findings detailed in the report will now be reviewed by the Senate Rules Committee on Jan. 11 — two days after Session starts — and they will consider the recommendations made by Swanson. He said a “full range of available sanctions should be considered” against Latvala and also recommended sexual harassment training for Senate members and staff, and a review of the Senate “culture.”

If the committee, chaired by Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, recommends a punishment, which could range from a reprimand to expulsion, it would have to be imposed by a two-thirds vote of the full Senate.

If he is expelled, the Republican gubernatorial candidate will “most likely” take the case to court, said one of his attorneys, Steve Andrews, citing concerns over “procedural due process” during the Senate investigation.

Perrin Rogers, 35, filed a formal complaint Nov. 5 with the Senate Rules Committee alleging Latvala assaulted her, touched her inappropriately at a bar, and subjected her to verbal sexual harassment for four years.

Throughout the investigation, Latvala vehemently denied the allegations and in an attempt to defend himself, his legal team released sworn statements from witnesses that took aim at Perrin Rogers’ credibility.

That included an affidavit from Lillian Tysinger, a former Senate Majority Office colleague of Perrin Rogers who claimed she boasted about sabotaging people’s careers.

Latvala received backlash for his handling of the investigation, and Sen. Lauren Book, a Democrat and close ally of his, filed a formal complaint and accused him of interfering with the investigation.

She denounced his defense tactics as a public attack on Perrin Rogers, which could deter other sexual harassment victims from coming forward. She did not call on him to resign.

Book was not the only one. The 39-member Senate was mostly mum during the investigation. Just two of the 15 Senate Democrats called for Latvala to resign, even when the Florida Democratic Party called on him to do so.

But as Latvala fought career-threatening allegations, those claims inspired Attorney General Pam Bondi to call for legislation that aims to protect sexual harassment victims, and Gov. Rick Scott — who called Latvala a “distraction” — to issue an executive order to strengthen sexual harassment policies in state agencies in the executive branch.

The Senate has yet to conclude a different investigation stemming from sexual harassment allegations detailed by five other unnamed women in a POLITICO Florida report. Leading the investigation is Tampa-based attorney Gail Holtzman.

Her findings will go to the Office of Legislative Services.

Here is the report:

Adam Putnam says ‘it is time’ for Jack Latvala to resign

Update:

Jack Latvala resigned from the Senate Wednesday afternoon. In a resignation letter to Senate President Joe Negron, Latvala wrote: “I have never intentionally dishonored my family, my constituents or the Florida Senate.

“My political adversaries have latched onto this effort to rid our country of sexual harassment to try to rid the Florida Senate of me.”

__

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam called on Sen. Jack Latvala to resign for the first time following a damning report by an independent Senate investigator that could lead to criminal charges.

“No person, in any setting — and certainly not in the state Capitol — should be subjected to this behavior,” Putnam said in a statement.

Putnam is the front-runner in the governor’s race and is facing Latvala for the 2018 GOP nomination.

While they are political opponents, Putnam shied away from calling on him to resign when the sexual harassment allegations first came to light early in November. Instead, he said the Legislature should investigate and “ensure victims may be heard without fear or reprisal.”

After special master Ronald Swanson released the report on Tuesday, Putnam quickly changed his tone. After interviewing dozens of witnesses, Swanson found probable cause that the powerful Clearwater senator inappropriately touched Rachel Perrin Rogers, a top Senate aide, for several years. He also found probable cause that the powerful senator engaged in other sexual misconduct with female lobbyists, including offering to trade his vote for sex.

The sexual “quid quo pro” finding, Swanson wrote, was confirmed in text messages and may violate public corruption laws. He recommended the matter be “immediately” referred to law enforcement.

“Now that the investigation is complete and its findings of probable cause and the referral of the most serious allegations to law enforcement, it is time for Senator Latvala to resign,” Putnam said.

Jack Latvala won’t allow sexual harassment report ruin holidays

Update:

Jack Latvala resigned from the Senate Wednesday afternoon. In a resignation letter to Senate President Joe Negron, Latvala wrote: “I have never intentionally dishonored my family, my constituents or the Florida Senate.

“My political adversaries have latched onto this effort to rid our country of sexual harassment to try to rid the Florida Senate of me.”

__

Sen. Jack Latvala posted on Facebook Tuesday night that he’s not going to let politics spoil Christmas.

Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, posted on his Facebook page a few hours after the release of findings from a outside investigation saying he likely had committed sexual harassment against a Senate staffer.

The report also recommended an allegation that Latvala had offered a quid pro quo of sex-for-votes to a female lobbyist “be immediately referred to law enforcement for further investigation.” He did not address any of the details in the report.

“The timing of the special master’s report tonight has created some special problems for me,” the 66-year-old senator wrote.

“I have a medical procedure scheduled for tomorrow/Thursday after which I have committed to go to Mississippi to see my stepdad and brother for the first time since my mother died this summer, then (I) will go be with my family for Christmas.

“If there is one thing that I have learned the last couple months, it’s the value of my family, so I am not going to let their holiday be consumed by politics,” he added.

“I will be back in Tallahassee on Dec. 26 and will meet with my legal and political team then to consider the future. I will not have any further comment until at least then.

“I appreciate the many gestures of support tonight more than you will ever know. Thank you for your friendship.”

The post generated almost 50 comments by 9 p.m.

For instance, Jason Steele, director of government affairs at Smith & Associates, commented, “My thoughts and prayers have been with you from the very beginning of this mess. I believe in you, and ultimately this will all work out for the best.”

And Betsy Sullivan Collins, a former Senate employee, wrote, “Jack, we have been friends for over 25 years. You have always been above reproach. Merry Christmas to you and your family. Thank you for all the good work you have done for the State of Florida.”

Bill seeks to prevent driver’s license suspensions in non-driving offenses

No one should lose their driver’s license over an infraction that isn’t related to driving.

That’s the premise of a bill (SB 1270) filed Friday by St. Petersburg Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes.

“It is time to address the growing problem of non-driving related license suspensions,” Brandes said in a press release announcing the bill. “Stop the madness and quit taking away people’s driver’s licenses for unrelated offenses, especially failing to pay fines and fees.”

The bill would prohibit suspending someone’s driver’s license for various offenses unrelated to driving – except for failing to pay child support.

The legislation also helps solidify the right of a defendant in financial hardship to instead use community service as a form of payment for fees and fines. Individuals who have their licenses suspended due to financial reasons would instead be issued a “hardship license.”

Currently, someone who has been caught driving on a suspended license three or more times is given a felony. Brandes’ bill would prevent such action in instances when the driver had their license suspended for financial hardship.

“A relatively minor offense puts someone into the system where they may spiral downward and lose their job or end up serving prison time because they have to choose between driving to work and driving with a suspended license,” Brandes said.

The 2018 Session, which starts Jan. 9, marks the third time Brandes has tried to limit non-driving related license suspensions. Brandes’ bill last year died in Senate Appropriations.

Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson, also of St. Petersburg, co-sponsored the legislation last year. Brandes notes that Sarasota Republican Sen. Greg Steube and Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young have also been supportive of previous measures.

Senate spends $25K on outside attorneys for Jack Latvala probe

The Senate has spent nearly $25,000 in taxpayer money on outside attorneys in connection to the sexual harassment allegations against Sen. Jack Latvala, according to Senate records.

In mid-November, Senate President Joe Negron hired a trio of attorneys from the GrayRobinson law firm to help him navigate the investigation into sexual harassment and groping allegations against Latvala, one of the chamber’s most powerful senators.

Negron sought the help from the Orlando-based firm after the Senate general counsel, Dawn Roberts, recused herself from any involvement in the case, citing a potential conflict of interest because of her close association with Latvala over the years.

Since the contract was signed on Nov. 9, George Meros, who has represented embattled high-profile Republicans in the past, attorney Brian Bieber and attorney Allison Mawhinney have worked a total of 46.8 hours.

The attorneys charge an hourly fee, and according to the contract, their rates are $600 for Bieber, $550 for Meros and $345 for Mawhinney.

The contract with GrayRobinson states the attorneys will provide “legal and consulting services to the Senate” until Negron or his designee decides the services are no longer needed.

In recent weeks, one of the six women who accused Latvala of sexual harassment accused him publicly, intensifying the strategy behind his legal defense, which has led Sen. Lauren Book to file a formal complaint with the Senate Rules Committee, where she accuses him of interfering with the investigation.

Legal battles are also starting to appear even as some senators speculate the Senate investigation may be coming to an end.

Rachel Perrin Rogers, who publicly accused Latvala of sexual assault and harassment, has not ruled out the possibility of suing Latvala, according to her attorney Tiffany Cruz.

Cruz said the lawsuit would not be dependent on whether a special master finds probable cause in the Senate investigation, and the Tallahassee-based attorney may also be eyeing a potential lawsuit against the Senate.

“My client had hoped for a fair and impartial process in the Senate, but due to recent actions, we have serious concerns,” Cruz said.

Last week, Cruz asked the Senate to preserve all records related to the case, including emails, text messages, spreadsheets and documents.

Two days after that request was made, Lily Tysinger, a former Senate Majority Office colleague of Perrin Rogers who has helped Latvala mount his defense with sworn statements that take aim at Perrin Rogers’ credibility, filed a defamation suit against Perrin Rogers.

Cruz said she is “absolutely” filing a counterclaim against Tysinger.

Tysinger’s attorney, Marie Mattox, who has been behind several sexual harassment cases settled with the state, said the case is related to the “unsafe working environment” Rogers created for her at the Senate Majority Office.

Congressman says Jack Latvala Senate investigation is a ‘sham’

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz thinks the Senate sexual harassment investigation into Sen. Jack Latvala is a “sham” and refused to speak to the attorney leading the investigation, according to a POLITICO Florida report.

“The Florida Senate’s ‘investigation’ into Senator Latvala is a sham. I will not validate it by participating,” Gaetz wrote in a letter to Gail Holtzman, the third-party investigator hired by Senate President Joe Negron.

Gaetz said the Senate probe, which has been going on for about a month and has already prompted Sen. Lauren Book to file a complaint against Latvala for interfering with it, is not “serious” because it has not protected “those (Latvala) has harmed.”

“Accusers know it. Senators I’ve spoken know it. And so do I. Sad!” Gaetz wrote in the Nov. 30 letter.

Gaetz, who was the only Republican to go on record with POLITICO in early November when it reported six unnamed women were accusing Latvala of sexual harassment and groping, called the Clearwater Republican an “absolute hound.”

Brian Hughes drops a dime

For those of you who follow me on Twitter, you may have wondered how much holiday eggnog I had to drink Friday night after I launched a series of tweets directed at Republican political consultant Brian Hughes.

Please allow me to explain what prompted my broadside.

Up until about a month ago, Hughes and I worked closely together on a variety of campaigns and political issues. Although he has a tendency to be antagonistic, if not combative — even with his allies — Hughes can be a very capable operator. I even featured Hughes in INFLUENCE Magazine as one of the top communicators in Florida politics.

I don’t recall what the issue was, but a few months back Hughes had reached out to me (or vice versa) to tout one of his clients for inclusion in our weekly “Capitol Directions” feature that is included in the “Takeaways from Tallahassee” email.

Inexplicably, I copied Brian on an email to Fred Piccolo, a spokesman for Speaker Richard Corcoran, who moonlighted for me as a graphic designer. Piccolo was responsible for building out the graphics for “Capitol Directions,” so I needed to make sure he could update that week’s edition with whatever it is Hughes was asking for.

In tennis, this is what’s known as an unforced error.

That Piccolo did graphic design for me was not a secret, but neither was it well-known. When he took the position in the Speaker’s Office, I casually reminded him that he would need to fill out some form or another about doing outside work. After that, I never thought twice about any conflict of interest Piccolo’s working for me might raise.

Hughes, however, took great umbrage with the arrangement once he learned about. However, for a reason I’ll explain later, Hughes agreed to let the matter drop.

Fast-forward to L’ Affaire Latvala.

If you are a reader of this website, you are likely acutely aware of the investigation into allegations of sexual harassment levied against Sen. Jack Latvala by a high-ranking aide to Senate Majority Leader Wilton SimpsonRachel Perrin Rogers has accused Latvala and his supporters of retaliating against her and her husband, the aforementioned Brian Hughes.

Throughout this entire scandal, the staff at Florida Politics has remained impartial, reporting the good, the bad, and the ugly. Some of that ugly has included stories about sworn testimony given as part of the investigation. That sworn testimony has, for the most part, portrayed Perrin Rogers in an unfavorable light. This is unfortunate because, as Sen. Lauren Book so ably reminded us all, it is not ever OK to publicly attack or shame possible victims with character assassination. But these are court documents and sworn testimonies and have to be reported about whether we’re comfortable with that.

For the record, I never ‘outed’ Perrin Rogers AND resisted any attempt by external forces to do so via Florida Politics. I would have deleted this website before I would allow Perrin Rogers’ name to be made public before she was ready. Keep in mind, the first inkling of Perrin Rogers’ charges against Latvala was in comments she left on a Facebook version of my op-ed, “The Harvey Weinsteins of Florida politics are hiding in plain sight.”

Also for the record, I’ve not once judged the merits of Perrin Rogers’ accusations against Sen. Latvala. I haven’t commented on her at all, in fact. Meanwhile, I have been, on several occasions, very hard on Sen. Latvala, although I have never said he should resign.

Admittedly, it’s a difficult, complicated spot, as it is for many people involved in the process. All I can do is what I have done, which is do what I think is best and fair as each new development arises. For example, if a second accuser came to me today and said they wanted to go on the record against Sen. Latvala, I would not hesitate for a moment to share their story.

None of this has been good enough for Hughes, who, although he is in an impossibly difficult situation (what good husband would not forcefully defend their wife?) has moved from friend and strategic partner to a blood enemy.

In addition to some so subtle trolling of my family (here and here), Hughes has attempted to inflict damage on my business by actively contacting advertisers and strategic partners with a message of, “Him or me.”

My response to this has been to let Hughes punch himself out. So many of those he has contacted have described his communications as “bizarre,” that he really is doing more damage to himself than he could ever do to me. To date, not a single advertiser has asked for their ads to be pulled. In fact, two politicians who had been working with Hughes before he took the job as Lenny Curry’s chief of staff reached out to me this weekend to make sure I knew that they were independent of Hughes and did not want to be associated with his efforts.

Hughes has been peddling a four-part tale about me that asserts that a) I accepted a payment from a prominent reporter so as to not out them during the Ashley Madison scandal; b) my business is secretly funded by a major lobbying firm; c) the usual charges about being pay-to-play; and d) I pay Fred Piccolo to be my graphic designer so that I can have heightened access to the Speaker’s Office.

Last week, Hughes narced Piccolo doing design work for me to Gary Fineout of The Associated Press, which prompted this story.

How scandalous!

Undoubtedly, Piccolo should have submitted the right paperwork.

But what kind of nickel-dick man tattle tales to a reporter about someone making a few extra dollars designing invitations to a children’s party?

That AP story doesn’t hurt me — Hughes’ supposed target — one iota.

But it does hurt Fred Piccolo. And here’s why this really sucks.

The main reason I’ve kept Fred on is that he battling a horrible degenerative disease, the details of which are not mine to share beyond that disclosure. But Fred has told me that the graphic design work he does is therapeutic. So that’s why he sends me — sometimes unsolicited — Photoshopped images of Rick Baker and Rick Scott or whoever is in the news and our website needs art to accompany those stories. That’s the extent of Fred’s work for us.

For that, he makes from me what he’d make working for Uber.

Oh, and what was Fred earning that money for? So that he and his wife could pay for an adoption.

Yes, it was Fred’s fault for not doing the right paperwork.

But the more I thought about it — with the image of Fred’s slightly shaking hands foremost in my mind — I grew incensed at the collateral damage caused by Brian Hughes.

Hughes knew full well about Piccolo’s health issues and he still dropped a dime to a reporter.

If he wants to come at me by intimidating my advertisers or leaking to POLITICO, that’s one thing; I’ve been down the road of controversy before. But when you rat out a guy just working hard for his family, you’re a coward.

Joe Negron: Senate likely to consider tax amendment

Senate President Joe Negron said Friday he is open to the concept of a constitutional amendment that would make it harder for the Legislature to raise taxes.

In an interview with The News Service of Florida, The Stuart Republican said the Senate is working on a measure “that will be similar in goal” to Gov. Rick Scott‘s proposal to amend the state Constitution to require two-thirds votes by the Legislature before raising taxes or fees or creating new ones.

Negron said the measure is being developed by Senate Finance and Tax Chairwoman Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican.

In August, Scott called for a constitutional amendment that would require a “supermajority” vote before raising taxes and fees, which now can be created or raised by majority votes in the state House and Senate.

Scott said increasing the voting requirement “would make it harder for politicians in the future” to raise taxes or fees.

In November, the House unveiled a proposal (HJR 7001), sponsored by Rep. Tom Leek, an Ormond Beach Republican, that would require two-thirds votes by the Legislature to raise taxes or fees. That would translate to support from 80 members of the 120-member House and 27 members of the 40-member Senate.

The House proposal also would require each tax or fee increase to be passed as a single-subject bill.

The House proposal is pending in the Appropriations Committee, where if it gets a favorable vote, it would be ready for a debate on the House floor.

As the former chairman of budget committees in the House and Senate, Negron was asked about the impact of raising the threshold for passing taxes or fees.

“It’s highly unlikely that the Legislature would raise taxes,” Negron said. “I think the real issue is going to be, what should the percentage of the vote be? Should it also include fees?”

Kurt Wenner, vice president for research at Florida TaxWatch, testified at a House Ways & Means Committee in November in favor of an approval threshold of three-fifths votes by the House and Senate.

“It doesn’t get to where, basically, a third of the members could defeat something,” Wenner told the committee.

The Florida Constitution already contains a provision requiring a three-fifths vote by the Legislature to raise the state corporate income tax.

Negron expressed some doubt about including fees in the amendment. He recalled his time as the House budget chairman looking at agriculture-related fees that had not been raised in decades.

“If you’re making a fee actually reflect the current cost of something and it’s a fee, I think that’s a different issue than raising taxes,” Negron said.

But Negron said he expects the Senate to consider some version of an amendment increasing the voting threshold.

“I do think the Senate will take up a proposed constitutional amendment, which Sen. Stargel is working on, that addresses that issue and I am open to that,” Negron said.

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years and has the power to place constitutional amendments on the November 2018 ballot, will take up a measure (Proposal 72) next week that is similar to the House proposal, requiring two-thirds votes to raise taxes or fees.

The proposal, sponsored by Commissioner Fred Karlinsky, is scheduled to be heard by the commission’s Finance and Taxation Committee on Tuesday.

All of the proposals, if they are passed by the Legislature or the Constitution Revision Commission, would require approval by at least 60 percent of voters during the November 2018 election.

At least 14 other states require extraordinary votes by their legislatures when raising taxes, according to House analysts.

The vote thresholds range from a three-fifths vote to three-fourths votes in Arkansas, Michigan and Oklahoma. The Michigan threshold is limited to property taxes. Seven states have a two-thirds threshold, similar to the House proposal.

The Florida Legislature last voted for a major tax increase in 2009, raising taxes on packs of cigarettes by $1.

Andrew Gillum questions Senate Democrats’ silence on Jack Latvala

While the Florida Democratic Party has called for Republican state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater to step down in the wake of accusations of sexual harassment, only two of the 15 Democratic senators have followed suit.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum says that may be because of the institutional structure and the nature of relationships in the Senate, but he says that Latvala’s “attack dog” tactics are why he should resign.

“What you have in the Florida Senate is a lot of close relationships, a lot of folks who know each other, and a real unwillingness to enter into the divisive fray of having a colleague step down,” said the Tallahassee mayor, following an appearance at Tampa’s Oxford Exchange Friday morning.

“These are uncomfortable positions all the way around for everybody, but it does require leadership.”

One Democratic senator speaking out is Lauren Book, who earlier this week filed a formal complaint alleging that Latvala violated Senate rules by aggressively going after his one public accuser, Senate aide Rachel Perrin Rogers. She has accused Latvala of groping her and using degrading language to describe her body over a four-year period.

“I’ve been most disheartened by what appears to have been a full-on intimidation and attack dog approach when it comes to the victim,” Gillum said.

Last Saturday, Perrin Rogers’ attorney, Tiffany R. Cruz, asked the Office of Legislative Affairs to provide armed security for her client this week as she entered and exited the Capitol and worked in her office.

Gillum said the toxic level of fear that necessitated the request for security was a “horrible way to handle a sexual assault claim in the Florida Legislature.”

“That alone is enough for the Senate, and Senate leadership, to put his party, the institution, the health, the safety, the welfare of those individuals above his own personal interests there.”

An investigation is continuing on Perrin Rogers’ original charges of sexual harassment against Latvala. The Clearwater Republican has denied the allegations, saying the claims are political because he’s running for Governor.

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