As lime­light dims on #Me­Too, some worry

Will Florida lead­ers take on sex­ual ha­rass­ment mea­sures this year?

Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition - - LOCAL - By Gray Rohrer Tal­la­has­see Bureau

TAL­LA­HAS­SEE – Prompted by sala­cious head­lines gen­er­ated within their own cham­bers and the #Me­Too move­ment, law­mak­ers con­sid­ered a bill last year to in­crease penal­ties for sex­ual ha­rass­ment in state govern­ment and pro­vide stan­dards for re­port­ing it.

But amid a dis­agree­ment be­tween House and Sen­ate lead­ers in the last days of the leg­isla­tive ses­sion, the bill died.

Now, with the is­sue out of the lime­light, some sup­port­ers of strength­en­ing the laws worry the is­sue will fade from the agenda.

“Ob­vi­ously our na­tion had a reck­on­ing with the #Me­Too move­ment ... and yet we have yet to see true sys­tem­atic change,” said Rep. Anna Eska­mani, D-Or­lando. “We have yet to ad­dress in this (Leg­is­la­ture) the poli­cies that truly pro­tect the ex­pe­ri­ence of in­terns, staff, lob­by­ists and law­mak­ers.”

Eska­mani is spon­sor­ing a bill that would tackle ha­rass­ment in all work­places in the state, not just in govern­ment. Her mea­sure would di­rect the Florida Com­mis­sion on Hu­man Re­la­tions, a board that han­dles civil rights and work­place dis­crim­i­na­tion com­plaints, to set up stan­dards and train­ing for sex­ual ha­rass­ment pre­ven­tion, in­clud­ing cre­ation of com­plaint forms and a run­down of vic­tims’ rights.

“If a busi­ness al­ready has some­thing that’s in place and it ex­ceeds those stan­dards, fan­tas­tic,” Eska­mani said. “Our goal with this is not to bur­den busi­nesses but to re­ally again cre­ate that cul­ture of safety se­cu­rity and ac­count­abil­ity.”

Sen. Lau­ren Book, D-Plan­ta­tion, a sur­vivor of sex­ual as­sault

when she was a child, spon­sored the bill last year re­gard­ing state agen­cies. A sim­i­lar House ver­sion passed through that cham­ber but in­cluded a series of ethics pro­vi­sions that Sen­ate lead­ers ob­jected to, killing the mea­sure in the fi­nal week.

This year she’s spon­sor­ing a bill to set up a task force to re­view rules and laws sur­round­ing re­port­ing com­plaints of sex­ual ha­rass­ment, vic­tims’ ser­vices, in­ves­ti­ga­tions, ac­count­abil­ity for of­fend­ers and laws in other states.

Amid the #Me­Too rev­e­la­tions last year, there were 13 states passed new mea­sures re­lated to pre­vent­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Con­fer­ence of State Leg­is­la­tures.

Another mea­sure from Book would re­quire state col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties to in­clude a no­ta­tion on stu­dent tran­scripts if he or she were dis­missed from school for sex­ual mis­con­duct.

But it’s un­clear how far the leg­is­la­tion will go this year.

Florida ex­pe­ri­enced its own scan­dals last year, in­clud­ing the res­ig­na­tions of Sens. Jack Lat­vala and Jeff Cle­mens.

In Cle­mens’ case, an af­fair with a lob­by­ist was made pub­lic, forc­ing his ouster. Lat­vala was ac­cused by six women — two of them pub­licly — of sex­ual ha­rass­ment over more than a decade.

He re­signed and the Sen­ate also later paid $900,000 to set­tle a com­plaint filed with the fed­eral Equal Em­ploy­ment Op­por­tu­nity Com­mis­sion from Rachel Perrin Rogers, a for­mer Sen­ate staffer and one of the ac­cusers, who al­leged she was re­tal­i­ated against af­ter com­ing for­ward with her com­plaints.

The Sen­ate up­dated its sex­ual ha­rass­ment train­ing and re­port­ing pro­ce­dures, which lead­ers in both cham­bers point to as progress. But they haven’t made a com­mit­ment to pass­ing a bill.

“Over the last year, the Sen­ate has taken many steps to im­prove the cul­ture of our work­place, in­clud­ing up­dat­ing both our rules and per­son­nel poli­cies and adding ad­di­tional train­ing in pre­vent­ing work­place ha­rass­ment, ac­tive by­stander in­ter­ven­tion, avoid­ing re­tal­i­a­tion, and di­ver­sity and in­clu­sion,” said Sen­ate Pres­i­dent Bill Gal­vano, R-Braden­ton, in a state­ment. “These im­por­tant steps were taken to en­sure em­ploy­ees and vis­i­tors are able to con­duct busi­ness and fully par­tic­i­pate in the leg­isla­tive process in an en­vi­ron­ment that is safe and free from any type of ha­rass­ment.”

House Speaker Jose Oliva stressed he has a “zero tol­er­ance” pol­icy in his cham­ber but made no guar­an­tees about which leg­is­la­tion would gain trac­tion.

“There is an in­ter­est among mem­bers to take another look at ad­dress­ing any un­re­solved is­sues,” said Oliva, R-Mi­ami Lakes. “It’s dif­fi­cult to pre­dict which mem­ber’s bill will move along the process or whether the House would work with the Sen­ate bill. But, re­gard­less, the House was the first to strengthen sex­ual ha­rass­ment rules and penal­ties two years ago, and the speaker’s zero tol­er­ance pol­icy re­mains the law in the Florida House.”

Eska­mani said she’s still hope­ful some­thing will pass this time around.

“Part of our ef­fort in even spon­sor­ing this bill is to keep it in ev­ery­one’s radar that the prob­lem has not been solved yet,” Eska­mani said. “And if we re­ally want to build a state that pri­or­i­tizes the ex­pe­ri­ences of all Florid­i­ans, but es­pe­cially women and girls, we have to get this right.’’

STEVE CAN­NON/AP

Gov. Rick Scott is­sued a state­ment Dec. 20, 2017, call­ing on Sen. Jack Lat­vala, R-Clear­wa­ter, to step down af­ter an in­ves­ti­ga­tion found cred­i­ble ev­i­dence of sex­ual mis­con­duct.

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