Florida Senate releases revamped sexual harassment policy

click to enlarge Florida State Capitol - Michael Rivera
Michael Rivera
Florida State Capitol
The Florida Senate released a revamped sexual harassment policy Thursday, after sex scandals rocked the chamber and led to the resignations of two prominent senators.

Former Sen. Jack Latvala announced his resignation last month following the release of an investigative report that recommended a criminal probe into allegations the Clearwater Republican had promised legislative favors to a lobbyist in exchange for sex.

The investigation was sparked by sexual-harassment complaint lodged against Latvala by Senate aide, Rachel Perrin Rogers. Latvala stepped down after Special Master Ronald Swanson, a retired judge, found probable cause to support allegations that the veteran lawmaker had repeatedly groped Perrin Rogers and engaged in a pattern of making unwelcome remarks about women's bodies. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is conducting a criminal probe into the separate allegations of a quid pro quo involving the lobbyist.

In October, former Sen. Jeff Clemens —- a Lake Worth Democrat in line to take over as Senate minority leader after the 2018 elections —- quit his legislative post after admitting he had an extramarital affair with a lobbyist.

Senate President Joe Negron gave Senate Rules Chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto the responsibility of reviewing the chamber’s workplace harassment policies and recommending changes.

“I recognize that no matter how complete we believe our policies and rules to be, only through effective implementation, shared commitment and continual improvement will we achieve our goal,” Negron, R-Stuart, wrote in a memo to senators.

Negron said the Senate will provide online training to senators and staff regarding sexual and workplace harassment and will distribute the policies to lobbyists. Senators will have two weeks to complete the training, once it is available.

The policy will apply to senators, legislative staff, lobbyists and visitors to Senate offices or committees.

The policy also defines “sexual harassment” as “unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature when submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment; submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working environment.”

The policy notes that “sexual comments or innuendos about one’s clothing, body, appearance or sexual activity,” if unwelcome, could constitute sexual harassment. Other behaviors listed include “making unwelcome calls or other communications to discuss matters of a personal nature” or “requesting or demanding sexual favors.”

Unwelcome physical behavior that could constitute sexual harassment includes “kissing or hugging, unless welcome or clearly not objected to, when made in connection with a greeting or parting, such as a peck on the cheek.”

And “patting, pinching, or intentionally brushing against an individual’s body” are also off-limits, according to the new policy.

The policy also advises members and aides to keep in mind that a single incident may or may not constitute sexual harassment and that “conduct or communications that might have been welcome between two individuals at one time may become unwelcome at any time.”

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