Florida lawmakers fail to pass anti-sexual harassment bill

Florida governor’s mansion and state capitol building. Credit MGN

Despite a promise by Florida’s legislative leaders to keep government workers safe from sexual harassment, a bill addressing the issue died on Friday.

A last-minute effort to revive legislation that would have forced government agencies to create policy to prevent and punish sexual harassment failed after the House couldn’t agree on language.

“It makes me very angry,” said Republican Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, who sponsored the House bill. “It makes me angry not just because of me, but because of the women who have shared their stories. The women’s voices who have been silenced … by the not finishing this, they’re basically just silencing them yet again by saying we’re going to maintain the status quo.”

The session began Jan. 9 with promises from House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron to address sexual harassment in government. While both chambers passed bills, they legislation had vast differences that couldn’t be worked out.

Democratic Sen. Lauren Book, who sponsored the Senate bill, said her own experience in the final week of session shows that an “old boys’ club” attitude in the Capitol still exists. She said Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer questioned her ability to do her job during a conversation with other senators because she’s a young mother.

“I’ve never shied away from the fact that this is an old boys’ club and the old boys’ mentality continues to exist and we’re to continue to combat it,” Book said.

She said Farmer’s remarks are “an example of a very old, sexist place.”

Book gave birth to twins two weeks before the 2017 session, her first in the Senate.

“I came here two weeks after they were born. I breast fed the entire first session I was here. I didn’t miss a vote, I didn’t miss a day. The thought that I can’t do my job because I have two young children is laughable and insulting.”

Sullivan and Book said they were going to continue the push to pass an anti-sexual harassment bill when lawmakers return to session next year.

“We can’t move on from this. This culture has been accepted for far too long,” Sullivan said.

The issue became a priority for the Legislature in the wake of reports of sexual misconduct at the Capitol.

Republican Sen. Jack Latvala stepped down after an investigation found evidence of sexual misconduct, Democratic Sen. Jeff Clemens resigned after admitting to an extramarital affair with a lobbyist and Public Service Commission appointee Ritch Workman stepped down after a senator accused him of touching her inappropriately.

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