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Rob Bradley on Jack Latvala investigation: ‘There is a process in place’

As storm clouds continue to build around Sen. Jack Latvala in the wake of sexual harassment charges, many politicians with statewide notoriety have made their positions clear.

The tipping point occurred this week, when Rachel Perrin Rogers, a legislative aide to Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson, went public with her accusations against Latvala. Perrin Rogers was tired of Latvala lying about the motivations of her and her husband, political consultant Brian Hughes.

Attorney General Pam Bondi was “astonished to learn that one of the victims of the recent allegations in Tallahassee is a woman who I’ve known and respected for years,” adding that there must be “respect” for “the investigation by the Florida Senate and the privacy of all parties involved.”

Gov. Rick Scott likewise vouched for the character of Perrin Rogers and Hughes.

“Brian Hughes worked for me. I can only say my experience with him is positive,” Scott said to POLITICO. “My experience with his wife has been very positive. When I’ve been around her, she has been a wonderful lady.”

Scott also deemed Latvala’s continued presence in the Senate a “distraction.”

“It is obvious that Senator Latvala remaining in the Senate is a distraction. It seems that everyone in Tallahassee is talking about this and not how to make Florida better. It is my understanding that there’s an investigation underway, and when that is complete, the Senate will have a decision to make,” Scott said. “As I have said all along, if these allegations are true, he must resign immediately.

Adam Putnam, who still has to deal with Latvala as a nominal opponent in the Governor’s race, has begun to work references to “corruption and predation and harassment” into his stump speech.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that the legislative business has slowed to a crawl as they’ve struggled to deal with multiple complaints. And no woman should have to endure the type of treatment that has been alleged in this situation. And if it’s true, he needs to go,” Putnam told Florida Politics.

However, the calculus is different for those actually in the Senate, such as Fleming Island Republican Rob Bradley — who took Latvala’s place as Appropriations Chair last month.

We asked Bradley if Latvala had become a distraction, if Latvala should resign, and if Latvala has the votes in the Senate to survive this.

Bradley, an attorney by trade, framed his comments on the side of due process.

“Regarding the Latvala matter,” Bradley told us Saturday morning, “there is a process in place and we need to let it work.”

“The process may include the Rules Committee and full Senate considering evidence and arguments, and then making judgments. As a member of the Rules Committee,” Bradley added, “it’s appropriate for me to refrain from responding to these questions at this time.”

One can expect that the process that a Senate investigation will take will happen against a backdrop of leaks and allegations from Latvala and his attorneys, as well as from those aligned with Hughes and Perrin Rogers.

It’s an ugly time in Florida politics, and if the last month is any indication, it’s not about to get better anytime soon.

Pam Bondi seeks information over Uber data breach

Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s office issued a subpoena to Uber in search of information related to the ride-sharing company’s alleged cover-up of a 2016 data breach.

The San Francisco-based company recently acknowledged that drivers throughout the country might have had their personal information accessed as a result of the breach. At least 32,000 Uber drivers in Florida may have been affected, according to a news release issued Friday by Bondi’s office.

Uber should have reported the data breach to Bondi’s office within 30 days, according to Florida law.

Instead, the company “reportedly paid a ransom and then concealed the hack by entering into a nondisclosure agreement with the hackers,” the release said.

“Uber’s delay to provide timely notice to affected individuals is inexcusable,” Bondi said. “I have always been a strong advocate for Uber’s innovative technology, but if these revelations prove true, I am disgusted by this cover up and Uber will be held accountable.”

Bondi helped craft the Florida Information Protection Act, passed in 2014, that requires businesses and governmental entities to provide notice regarding data breaches to consumers and take certain measures to protect personal information.

Donald Trump to hold campaign rally in Pensacola

President Donald Trump plans to hold a re-election campaign rally in Pensacola next Friday, his fourth visit to the city since he first began campaigning for president in 2015.

The Donald J. Trump for President campaign announced he will be appearing at a 7 p.m. Dec. 8 rally at the Pensacola Bay Center.

“We are pleased to confirm that President Trump will be attending a campaign rally in Pensacola next Friday evening,” Michael Glassner, executive director of the campaign said in a media advisory.

“Nothing inspires President Trump as much as connecting with hard working Americans at campaign rallies across the country. He especially enjoys meeting with our courageous veterans and their families at these patriotic events. As the President’s historic tax reform plan, which he has said will be like rocket fuel in our economy, gets closer to passage, the timing for our campaign rally in Pensacola could not be better.”

Pam Bondi calls for legislation to protect sexual harassment victims

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on Friday said her “heart breaks” for the Senate staffer who in a sworn statement said Sen. Jack Latvala groped her private body parts and sexually harassed her for years, and called for legislation to protect sexual harassment victims.

“I was astonished to learn that one of the victims of the recent allegations in Tallahassee is a woman who I’ve known and respected for years,” Bondi said in a statement.

Rachel Perrin Rogers, a legislative aide to Republican Sen. Wilton Simpson, went public with her accusations against Latvala this week saying she was tired of him lying about her intentions and those of her husband, Brian Hughes, a political consultant.

“My heart breaks for her. We must respect the investigation by the Florida Senate and the privacy of all parties involved,” Bondi said.

Bondi encouraged women who have experienced sexual harassment to come forward, and while she did not give specifics, she said she reached out to House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who is handling the complaint against Latvala, to preserve a spot for legislation that would “provide protections to victims of sexual harassment complaints.”

Corcoran, who is mulling a run for governor, has called for Latvala to resign. Bondi said he was supportive of a law that would protect all women working in state government.

“It is remarkable what women can do when we all stand together,” she added.

The sex scandal rocking the Republican gubernatorial candidate intensified this week after Perrin Rogers went public and Latvala’s legal team released dozens of text message exchanges in counter defense that showed a cordial working relationship between the two. The complaint detailing the sexual harassment allegations was also made public this week.

Soon after that happened, Gov. Rick Scott said the powerful senator — who is running to succeed him –was a “distraction” in the Legislature.

Latvala slammed Scott for his comment hours later, taking to Twitter to say Scott’s “theft of billions in taxpayers” was also a distraction, referring to his defense in a Medicare fraud case against Scott’s former hospital company.

“I’m sure HCA stockholders thought your efforts to defend yourself in theft of billions from taxpayers was a distraction but you had a right to defend yourself! I have that same right!” he tweeted.

The Senate continues to investigate the allegations of six women, one of them being Perrin Rogers, brought to light by a POLITICO Florida report. There is a separate Senate probe sparked by the complaint Perrin Rogers filed with the Senate Rules Committee.

Latvala’s defense team said there is a sense of “urgency” to wrap up the investigation and that it could be resolved as soon as next week.

Text messages: Jack Latvala accuser dreamed of him as younger, skinnier

More text messages from the Senate staffer accusing Sen. Jack Latvala of sexual misconduct show her describing her dream of a younger, thinner Latvala and calling him “mo betta.”

The exchange between Rachel Perrin Rogers, top aide to Trilby Republican and future Senate President Wilton Simpson, and Lillian Tysinger, then a Senate Republican Office legislative analyst, was obtained by Florida Politics on Friday afternoon.

“All I can tell you is, I would question their veracity in light of the person that they came from,” said Perrin Rogers’ attorney, Tiffany R. Cruz, when asked for comment.

Later, she texted a reporter, “Florida Politics has printed false information. Lily Tysinger does not work in the Senate Majority Office. She was removed because she was incapable of telling the truth.”

The 35-year-old Perrin Rogers is one of six women to tell POLITICO Florida they were groped or otherwise sexually harassed by Latvala,  a Clearwater Republican who has repeatedly denied the claims and continues to campaign for governor. Perrin Rogers also has filed a sworn complaint with the Senate Rules Committee.

In the undated virtual conversation, which Tysinger certified under “penalties of perjury,” Perrin Rogers asked her if she had told Latvala about “our messiness.”

“I sort of mean our friendship but messiness seems like a good way of putting it,” she wrote. (It’s not entirely clear whether Perrin Rogers is referring to her and Latvala, or her and Tysinger.)

“Flashback,” Perrin Rogers continued. “Last night Latvala was in my dream. He lost over 100 lbs.” Tysinger responded, “Oh wow.”

“He also had dark hair. It was like his official Senate photo came to life,” Perrin Rogers wrote.

“Oh that’s creepy,” Tysinger replied.

“When are you coming back? Have we lost you to Jack forevvvverrr,” Perrin Rogers wrote.

“Saturday. Lol,” Tysinger said.

“What are you doing tomorrow? I wish we would. He’s mo betta,” Perrin Rogers said.

Previously released messages between Perrin Rogers and Latvala on Wednesday show a friendly relationship between the two throughout the last Legislative Session. They include a meme, and a text saying “Smile, somebody loves you!” followed by a heart emoji.

Cruz has previously said any texts her client sent to Latvala were “an effort to accomplish one goal: Garner his support for Sen. Simpson and his agenda.”

While these text messages are surfacing, the state’s executive cabinet has made a point of distancing itself from the Clearwater Republican.

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis was the last to disavow the ongoing investigation, telling POLITICO Friday he’s “disappointed in this entire situation.”

Gov. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam have made similar remarks distancing themselves from the suspended Senate budget chief.

Attorney General Pam Bondi said on Friday her “heart breaks” for the alleged victims.

Capital correspondent Ana Ceballos contributed to this post. 

Adam Putnam on Jack Latvala charges: ‘If it’s true, he needs to go’

Thursday evening saw Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam address around 400 people at a ranch deep on Jacksonville’s Westside.

The speech was familiar, by and large, though a new phrasing crept in: a reference to “corruption and predation and harassment.”

Putnam didn’t elaborate on those themes on the mic, even as his remarks came just hours after Gov. Rick Scott deemed scandal-scarred Sen. Jack Latvala a “distraction.”

“It is obvious that Senator Latvala remaining in the Senate is a distraction. It seems that everyone in Tallahassee is talking about this and not how to make Florida better … As I have said all along, if these allegations are true, he must resign immediately,” Scott said.

We asked Putnam for his take, and it very much aligns with that of the Governor.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt that the legislative business has slowed to a crawl as they’ve struggled to deal with multiple complaints. And no woman should have to endure the type of treatment that has been alleged in this situation. And if it’s true, he needs to go,” Putnam told Florida Politics.

A month ago, as the first reportage of the charges against Latvala — still an opponent in the Gubernatorial race, even as at least one regional campaign staffer staff has been let go — broke, Putnam was reluctant to address them.

Since then, more particulars have come out, including one of Latvala’s accusers making her claims public. The issue has not gone away, and the investigation of Latvala churns on even as the Legislative Session nears commencement.

Putnam, the clear frontrunner on the Republican side of the Governor’s race, is not making Latvala’s travails the focus of his stump speech.

However, it’s clear that he’s become more comfortable discussing Latvala’s situation since news of it broke at the end of October.

And should the matter linger as an active issue into December and beyond, expect Putnam and others to be ever more direct in their takes.

Democrats’ request for earlier special election gets court date

Florida Democrats last week requested an injunction to move up the dates for a pair of South Florida special elections and the motion will get its day in court Dec. 7.

The motion, filed in Leon County circuit court, aims to get new dates for special elections in House District 114 and Senate District 31. Current special election dates, set by Gov. Rick Scott with input from county supervisors of elections, will keep both seats vacant for the 2018 Legislative Session.

Circuit court Judge Charles Dodson will preside over the arguments.

The injunction request is part of a lawsuit Democrats filed Nov. 6, before dates were set for either election, asking a judge to force Scott to set the dates.

Scott earlier this month ordered the special primary election in SD 31 for Jan. 30, with a special general election to follow on April 10. He also set the HD 114 special primary for Feb. 20, with the general election to follow on May 1.

SD 31 was vacated by Lake Worth Democrat Jeff Clemens on Oct. 27 after he acknowledged an affair with a lobbyist, while HD 114 was vacated by Coral Gables Democrat Daisy Baez at the beginning of November after she agreed to plead guilty to perjury in a case related to her legal residency.

The two South Florida districts are not the only ones expected to go without representation.

Republican Rep. Neil Combee’s exit from HD 39, effective Nov. 24, will leave that seat unfilled until a May 1 general election, while the abrupt exit of freshman Rep. Alex Miller in September will leave HD 72 unfilled until a Feb. 13 special general election. It’s unclear whether House budget chief Carlos Trujillo, who has been nominated to a U.S. ambassador post, will resign ahead of Session.

NRA lobbyist targets Barbara Pariente

National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer launched a campaign this week to purge Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente from a case that could have far-reaching implications for the makeup of the court.

Hammer, long an influential figure in Tallahassee and a former president of the national gun-rights group, sent an email alert Wednesday morning to NRA and Unified Sportsmen of Florida “members and friends” urging them to tell Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Pariente that “she must recuse or resign” from her post.

“Florida Supreme Court Justice Barbara Pariente has been caught in an act of what we believe is clear judicial misconduct and must recuse herself,” Hammer wrote, attaching an editorial penned by conservative political consultant Justin Sayfie.

In the email, Hammer wrote there “is no other appropriate option” for Pariente than recusal or resignation.

Gov. Rick Scott had asked Pariente to be removed from the case, which centers on whether the governor or his successor has the legal authority to appoint replacements for three justices — Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince — whose terms end as Scott leaves office in January 2019.

Scott’s lawyers argued that comments by Pariente caught on a “hot mic” after oral arguments in the case indicated she was biased against the governor.

Hammer’s Wednesday morning alert went out just as the court issued an order rejecting Scott’s request that Pariente be disqualified from the case. Presiding law in similar cases says that justices, not the entire court, get to decide whether to recuse themselves.

Hammer said the court’s decision Wednesday didn’t matter.

“She can recuse or resign at any time, and those are the only realistic options that are available,” she told The News Service of Florida on Thursday.

Pariente, Quince and Lewis are part of a liberal-leaning bloc that holds a slim 4-3 majority on the state’s high court. Whoever gets to choose the next three justices could shape court decisions for years, if not decades.

The court has thwarted efforts by Second Amendment supporters twice this year alone.

“The majority of our state’s highest court is not only liberal-leaning and biased against the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution but appears to be comfortable with Justice Pariente’s judicial misconduct,” Hammer said in the Thursday interview.

In September, a unanimous court drew a line in the sand in Florida’s “stand your ground” law, by saying the determination of immunity in a criminal case does not carry over to a civil case.

In a 4-2 ruling in March, the court upheld a long-standing ban on people openly carrying firearms in public.

The court could also hear an appeal in another case related to a change in the state’s “stand your ground” law. A Miami judge struck down the change, which supporters of the law called a “notable setback.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Rick Scott says Jack Latvala is ‘distraction’ amid investigation

Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday said Sen. Jack Latvala, under investigation after being accused of sexually harassing a legislative aide and others, is a “distraction” but stopped short of saying the veteran Republican lawmaker should resign.

Latvala, 66, has been accused by several women of groping and making unwelcome remarks about their bodies. Senate aide Rachel Perrin Rogers on Wednesday came forward and identified herself as the woman who lodged a formal complaint with the Senate Rules Committee and Senate President Joe Negron‘s office.

Scott previously called the allegations “disgusting” and said that Latvala, who is running for governor, should resign from the Senate if the accusations are true.

But, in a statement released Thursday, the governor went further.

“Any allegation of sexual harassment is absolutely disgusting and behavior like this is not acceptable. It is obvious that Senator Latvala remaining in the Senate is a distraction. It seems that everyone in Tallahassee is talking about this and not how to make Florida better. It is my understanding that there’s an investigation underway, and when that is complete, the Senate will have a decision to make,” Scott said. “As I have said all along, if these allegations are true, he must resign immediately. Last year, I championed a bill to protect state employees who were victims of sexual harassment at work, and my office is working on additional actions to continue to fight for victims.”

Latvala and his attorney, Steve Andrews, did not respond to requests for comment Thursday.

A special master is conducting an inquiry into the Rules Committee complaint, while the Office of Legislative Affairs hired an outside lawyer to lead a probe into accusations that were made by six unidentified women in a Politico Florida report that set off a firestorm in the Capitol early this month.

The allegations about Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, came as accusations of sexual misconduct topple powerful and well-known men in the movie industry, newsrooms and on television.

Latvala was the influential Senate budget chief until removed from the post by Negron after the allegations were made public. He has steadfastly denied making any unwanted physical contact with the women.

On Wednesday, Latvala’s attorney released more than 200 texts exchanged between the senator and the 35-year-old Perrin Rogers that showed the two had what appeared to be a cordial, if not friendly, relationship that went back several years.

Special master Ron Swanson, a former appellate judge, has been conducting interviews this week in Tallahassee, according to sources close to the investigation.

Swanson will make recommendations to the Rules Committee once his inquiry is complete. Potential sanctions for Latvala could include reprimand, censure or expulsion from the chamber, each of which would require a two-thirds vote of the Senate, which currently includes 39 members. One seat is vacant because former Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat, stepped down last month after disclosures about an affair with a lobbyist.

State settled 11 sexual harassment cases without payout agreement

While the state has paid $11 million to settle sexual harassment workplace disputes over 30 years, records released Thursday show it also settled nearly a dozen cases that resulted in a zero-dollar payout.

Florida Politics requested documents from the state Department of Financial Services, which list 11 state workers — both men and women — alleging they were sexually harassed, sexually assaulted and battered, or exposed to a hostile work environment in a state prison.

The cases range from a woman alleging sexual harassment, assault and battery while working at the Department of Transportation to a man and a woman reporting sexual harassment and retaliation while at the Collateral Regional Counsel for the Middle Region.

The cases were settled, but both parties were unable to reach an agreement on the payout amount.

“It does not mean there was no wrongdoing, but that there was no payment agreement reached,” said Jon Moore, press secretary for Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

The cases occurred between January 1998 and April 2008. But the hundreds of sexual harassment workplace claims ingrained in the state government’s history date as early as 1987 and as recent as 2015.

Of all these sexual harassment complaints, 81 percent targeted an executive agency. The biggest proportion going to the Department of Corrections, followed by the Department of Children & Families.

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