The temperatures plummeted outside the Capitol this week, but the frigid conditions aren’t limited to the out-of-doors.
Allegations of sexual harassment lodged against Sen. Jack Latvala, subsequent twin investigations and threats of civil and criminal legal action have thrown a chill over interactions between lawmakers, lobbyists and aides as they try to conduct business amid a national culture shift about how men treat women.
From the beginning of an investigation into Latvala, launched shortly after the allegations were made public more than a month ago, some women fearfully predicted that scrutiny — and the accusations — would hurt female lobbyists, who say they’re already at a disadvantage in the male-dominated industry.
Whether the situation will stabilize when the legislative session begins next month remains to be seen.
It was mostly quiet this week in terms of leaks, lawsuits and other developments related to sexual harassment in Florida’s Capitol. But Gov. Rick Scott stepped into the debate, issuing an executive order requiring his agency heads to set up uniform reporting and investigation procedures for sexual harassment complaints.
“Every agency was doing it a little bit differently. What this does is set up a process where we have clear expectations of what the training would be and what the reporting process would be. It’s all just to make sure that we have a process that works,” the governor told reporters after a Cabinet meeting Wednesday.
Many women and men around the Capitol and the country are hoping that the recent spotlight on sexual misconduct and misbehavior will result in safer and healthier workplace environments.
Others, however, are skeptical. They fear retaliation against accusers and their supporters will keep people from stepping forward and “outing” alleged abusers.
For some measured advice about expectations, we turn to Alexander Pope: “Blessed is he who expects nothing, for he shall never be disappointed.”
COURT FIGHT NOT `RIPE’
The Florida Supreme Court handed Scott a victory this week when it dismissed a case focused on whether the governor or his successor has the power to appoint three new justices.
Thursday’s decision — which a dissenting justice asserted sets up a “constitutional crisis” — isn’t a definitive ruling on whether the authority to select the new justices is vested in Scott or the winner of the 2018 gubernatorial election.
But it is at least a temporary victory for the governor, who has said he plans to appoint three Supreme Court justices before he leaves office. Scott’s final term and the terms of three justices — Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince — all end in January 2019.
In its dismissal of the case, the court found that the issue “is not ripe for consideration” because Scott hasn’t acted yet on the appointments.
The League of Women Voters and Common Cause filed the lawsuit in June, asking the court to prohibit Scott from filling any judicial vacancies that occur due to terms expiring in January 2019. The groups asked the court for a “writ of quo warranto,” which is used to determine whether a state officer or agency has improperly exercised power.
But the court on Thursday decided the use of the quo warranto writ “is not appropriate” to address something that may never happen.
“A party must wait until a government official has acted before seeking relief pursuant to quo warranto because a threatened exercise of power which is allegedly outside of that public official’s authority may not ultimately occur,” the court wrote in a 17-page ruling. “To address whether quo warranto relief is warranted under such premature circumstances would amount to an impermissible advisory opinion based upon hypothetical facts.”
But in a scathing dissent, Lewis called Thursday’s majority opinion “regrettable” and “distressing.”
“The Constitution requires devoted protection and the Florida citizens deserve better,” Lewis wrote. “Contrary to Florida law and the general common law, the majority has now announced that the challenged conduct must have already produced a constitutional crisis and calamitous result before illegal acts of government officials are subject to quo warranto review or relief.”
Scott didn’t cede any ground following the ruling, saying in a statement he was pleased with the court decision.
“As long as I am governor, I will continue to use my authority to appoint qualified judges,” the governor said.
But John Mills, a lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said Scott’s general counsel, Daniel Nordby, acknowledged during oral arguments that the governor’s successor would have the power to appoint the three new justices, unless something unusual occurs.
“The governor’s counsel conceded that unless a justice retires early or something else unexpectedly happens, such as the governor-elect forgetting to take the oath of office before midnight on the evening of Monday, January 7, 2019, Governor Scott does not have the authority he previously claimed,” Mills said in a statement. “It should now be clear to everyone that Governor Scott will not make these appointments unless something nobody currently anticipates occurs.”
BLOW WIND, BLOW
After Hurricane Irma caused a mass evacuation, thousands of Floridians have decided they aren’t going to hightail it out of town when the next hurricane bears down on the state.
That’s worrisome for former Federal Emergency Management Agency director and Alachua County homeboy Craig Fugate, who said the Sunshine State should brace for storms even more severe than those like Hurricane Irma, which swept across the peninsula after leaving the Florida Keys in tatters.
Fugate, who also served as the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, said Thursday that future storms will be stronger, have longer periods at top speeds and bring more rain than in the past because of the changing climate.
Fugate’s forecast came during a conference call hosted by the National Hurricane Survival Initiative about a new website and year-round awareness campaign titled “Get Ready, Florida!” He said people are expecting a level of forecasting that “isn’t there yet.”
Instead, people should continue to anticipate some uncertainty in forecasting, he said.
“If we knew exactly where it was going to hit it would be a lot easier, but it isn’t,” Fugate said. “As we saw with Irma, a slight jog east or west of that track, we’d have been in a lot different impact. In many ways, with the exception for what happened in extreme Southwest Florida and the Florida Keys, we basically did a lot better than what we thought was going to happen.”
STORY OF THE WEEK: Handing the governor at least a temporary victory, the Florida Supreme Court dismissed a case focused on whether Gov. Rick Scott or his successor has the authority to appoint three justices whose terms end around the same time as Scott’s in January 2019.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “There is not a plan B. You’re talking about significant losses to the state’s signature crop.” — Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, on the need for federal assistance for Florida’s struggling citrus industry, which sustained hundreds of millions of dollars in losses from Hurricane Irma