Florida Se­nate will in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions against sen­a­tor

South Florida Times - - FRONT PAGE - By GARY FINEOUT As­so­ci­ated Press

TAL­LA­HAS­SEE, Fla. - A pow­er­ful Repub­li­can state sen­a­tor and can­di­date for gov­er­nor will be in­ves­ti­gated by the Se­nate af­ter a re­port came out that said he had ha­rassed and groped women dur­ing his time in of­fice.

Se­nate Pres­i­dent Joe Ne­gron on Fri­day called the al­le­ga­tions against Sen. Jack Lat­vala “atro­cious and hor­ren­dous.” Lat­vala, a Clear­wa­ter Repub­li­can, is the Se­nate bud­get chair­man.

Politico Florida re­ported that six women said Lat­vala had ei­ther touched them in­ap­pro­pri­ately or made de­mean­ing com­ments about their bod­ies. The news out­let said the women did not want to be iden­ti­fied for fear of los­ing their jobs. The women in­cluded leg­isla­tive staff mem­bers and lob­by­ists.

In a state­ment, Lat­vala de­nied the re­port and sug­gested they were part of a “smear cam­paign” that only be­gan once he started run­ning for gov­er­nor. He said he would “take all le­gal ac­tions nec­es­sary to clear my name.”

“I un­equiv­o­cally deny the al­le­ga­tions that have been made against me,” Lat­vala said. “And I find it in­ter­est­ing that these anony­mous com­plaints have only come for­ward af­ter I be­gan my cam­paign for gov­er­nor.”

He added that “if my po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents want a fight, then it's a fight they will get.” Ne­gron or­dered the Se­nate gen­eral coun­sel to in­ves­ti­gate with the hu­man re­sources of­fice of the Florida Leg­is­la­ture.

The state Se­nate has been rocked with tur­moil for months.

Sen. Frank Ar­tiles, a Mi­ami Repub­li­can, re­signed last spring af­ter us­ing a racial slur in front of two African-Amer­i­can col­leagues dur­ing a pri­vate, af­ter-hours con­ver­sa­tion. Sen. Jeff Cle­mens, who was poised to be­come the next Se­nate Demo­cratic leader, of­fi­cially quit this week af­ter re­ports he had an ex­tra­mar­i­tal af­fair with a lob­by­ist.

Af­ter re­ports sur­faced that a pri­vate in­ves­ti­ga­tor had pho­tographed Lat­vala kiss­ing a fe­male lob­by­ist, he said that there was an “or­ga­nized ef­fort” to “tear down” the Se­nate ahead of the 2018 leg­isla­tive ses­sion. Lat­vala said the lob­by­ist - who had not been pub­licly iden­ti­fied - is a long­time friend.

Some House mem­bers quickly crit­i­cized Lat­vala af­ter the story came out. House Speaker Richard Cor­co­ran, who has rou­tinely clashed with Lat­vala, said he should re­sign im­me­di­ately.

Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Co­ral Springs Demo­crat, said Ne­gron should strip Lat­vala of his chair­man­ship and that the House should refuse to hold bud­get ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Se­nate if Lat­vala still held the po­si­tion dur­ing the 2018 ses­sion.

“To­day's al­le­ga­tions re­ported against Sen­a­tor Jack Lat­vala are ap­palling and dis­gust­ing,” Moskowitz said. “There is no ex­pla­na­tion or ra­tio­nal­iza­tion which could ever ac­count for this type of be­hav­ior and there should be no room for it in our Leg­is­la­ture or in so­ci­ety as a whole.”

PHOTO COUR­TESY OF FLORIDA POL­I­TICS

Sen. Jack Lat­vala

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