Scott says Latvala is 'distraction' in Senate amid sexual harassment 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, D-Lake Worth, stepped down last month after disclosures about an affair with a lobbyist.

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