UPDATE 4:25 P.M.: Senate Rules Committee Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers, has found probable cause to investigate Sen. Frank Artiles for violating the rules of legislative conduct and is appointing special counsel to investigate the matter. Senate General Counsel Dawn Roberts will present a report and a recommendation to the committee by April 25.
View the full memo and complaint below.
The Florida Senate is appointing a special Sen. Frank Artiles took to the Senate floor Wednesday morning and formally apologized to a fellow senator for derogatory remarks, including a racial slur, that he made towards her earlier this week.
"I extend a heartfelt apology to my colleagues and all of those I have offended," Artiles said.
Artiles' voice cracked slightly as he addressed his colleagues, many of whom have called for him to resign altogether.
The apology came after reports swirled that Artiles had verbally attacked Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, at the Governor's Club Monday evening.
According to the Miami Herald, Artiles was heard to use the word "niggers," though he claims he really had said "niggas," which he called a harmless slang-term. The Herald also reported Artiles referred to Gibson as "this bitch" and "girl" -- and told Gibson and Sen. Perry Thurston, D-Fort Lauderdale, that Negron (whom Artiles called "a pussy") had become Senate president because he got votes from "six niggers" in the Republican caucus.
"My harsh words have adversely reflected more on me than they ever could have on anyone else.," Artiles said.
Artiles publicly apologized to both Sens. Gibson and Perry Thurston, who was sitting at the same table as Gibson when Artiles made the remarks.
The apology comes after Senate President Joe Negron issued a statement late Tuesday saying Artiles would try to make amends on the Senate floor Wednesday morning for the derogatory remarks he made about her, including use of a racial slur.
Negron also removed Artiles as Chair of the Senate Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities, replacing him with Sen. Kelli Stargel.
Artiles' apology was expected, but sources told Sunshine State News that Senate leadership was less than pleased with the freshman senator who has previously made headlines for his hot head.
Senate Republican leader Wilton Simpson told Politico he was outraged. “What has been reported is completely and totally unacceptable and is not befitting of a member of the Florida Senate. We cannot support this hateful language. It is simply not acceptable.”
Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, in line to become the next Senate president, issued a statement expressing his disgust: "Such comments cannot be repaired by a formal apology, but I trust that it is an appropriate step to be taken by the president and the Florida Senate to handle this matter, and to ensure that this behavior is not tolerated and does not happen again."
Outcry was heard on both sides of the aisle, with Democrats also chiming in to condemn Artiles' remarks.
"The comments, attitude, and behavior toward State Senator Gibson cannot be swept aside because of a simple apology," the Democratic African American Women Caucus said in a statement released Wednesday. The derogatory comments and condescending language used to attack Senator Gibson must be addressed. Women should not be debased and devalued to assuage fragile male egos."
The Black Caucus held a meeting Wednesday morning slamming the comments and vowing to press forward to make sure the Kendall Republican was held accountable for his words.
"Words matter," said Senate Democratic Minority Leader Oscar Braynon. "So, too, do the consequences. Senator Artiles seems to have a problem with people who don't look like him, who don't think like him, who don't act like him."
Braynon said Artiles' actions were inexcusable and urged the Senate to act.
"Simply dismissing these charges Senator Artiles has admitted to as a passing lapse, or his temper getting the better of him, or a product of his childhood town, doesn't cut it."
The possibility still exists, however, that Democrats will file an official complaint against Artiles alleging he violated the formal rules of conduct in the Senate. According to the Herald, such a complaint could ultimately result in an ethics investigation by Senate Rules Chair Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers.
Later Wednesday afternoon, the Legislative Black Caucus held a press conference and called for Artiles' expulsion from the Senate.
Sen. Thurston said he filed a formal complaint to for Senate action to remove Artiles from his position as a state lawmaker.
Other legislators like Rep. Kamia Brown, D-Ocoee, said Artiles was known to be a "bully" in the legislative process.
"As a woman, as a fellow colleague and as an African-American, I have to stand up today and speak out on this issue," said Brown. "As a woman in the process, it's hard enough to have to deal with the various issues and decisions I make these 60 days, but for me to have to deal with and tolerate somebody calling me [other than] the name my parents named me, that's a problem."
This is a breaking story. Check back for updates.