The Florida Senate is requiring lawmakers to take mandatory sexual harassment training fresh off of months of controversy surrounding state senators accused of sexual harassment and misconduct in Tallahassee.
On Thursday, a Florida Senate committee approved a mandatory one-hour course on workplace and sexual harassment. The Florida House of Representatives already has a similar program in effect, though one currently doesn’t exist in the Senate.
"This is necessary so that the senators will be held to the same standard as every employee," said Senate Rules Committee chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto, R-Fort Myers.
Some state lawmakers said they approved of the rules change, but also said Florida senators should instinctively know how to behave in the workplace.
"It’s always been my view that if your mother raised you with manners and with common sense, 99 percent of this isn’t rocket science," said Sen. Tom Lee, R-Brandon.
The Florida Senate has been at the center of controversy in a time where allegations and stories of sexual harassment are surfacing not only in Tallahassee, but nationwide.
The Senate in particular has had a rocky few months dealing with sexual misconduct and harassment scandals.
In October, Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat, resigned from office after reports surfaced he had an extramarital affair with Tallahassee lobbyist Devon West.
Clemens admitted to the affair and swiftly resigned.
"I have made mistakes I ashamed of, and for the past six months I have been focused on becoming a better person,’’ Clemens said in a statement. “But it is clear to me that task is impossible to finish while in elected office.”
Clemens wasn’t the only one who found himself in hot water over sexual harassment and misconduct allegations. Days after Clemens resigned, Sen. Jack Latvala, a Republican from Clearwater, was accused by multiple women of sexual harassment and of groping them.
Once essentially the most powerful lawmaker in the Florida Senate as the Senate Appropriations Chair, Latvala fought tooth and nail against the allegations, denying any wrongdoing and engaging in what many saw as a targeted campaign to silence his accusers.
In December, a Special Master’s report detailed more instances where Latvala had been accused of harassment and of exchanging sexual favors for legislative votes.
With the report public and facing public corruption charges, Latvala resigned.
"I have never intentionally dishonored my family, my constituents or the Florida Senate," Latvala wrote in his resignation letter to Senate President Joe Negron.
Latvala dismissed critics as being driven by the national #MeToo movement to exact political revenge.
"My political adversaries have latched onto this effort to rid our country of sexual harassment to try to rid the Florida Senate of me,” Latvala wrote.
Two other state senators -- Sens. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, and Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens -- have also been embroiled in a widely publicized scandal after an anonymous website published videos insinuating the two were involved in an affair.
Flores and Braynon acknowledged their relationship in a statement Tuesday.
"As this 2018 session of the Florida Legislature gets underway," reads the statement, "we do not want gossip and rumors to distract from the important business of the people. That's why we are issuing this brief statement to acknowledge that our longtime friendship evolved to a level that we deeply regret.”
The Senate is expected to take up the mandatory sexual harassment training issue for a full vote, though a date has not yet been set.
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