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Democrats push for new sexual harassment training for lawmakers

(March 7, 2018) — Several Democratic legislators are backing a bill to reform sexual harassment training standards on Capitol Square in the wake of lewd comments and resignations by some of their colleagues at the Statehouse.

Sen. Charleta Tavares, D-Columbus, said at a news conference on Wednesday the bill would make the legislature’s sexual harassment policies a matter of public record, mandate sexual harassment training for lawmakers and staff and create a task force to review and make recommendations about harassment policies.

While sexual harassment complaints would be confidential during investigations, they would become become public — with the exception of victims’ names — if violations were found. Withholding victims’ names would allow them to speak up without fear of retaliation, Tavares said.

“Our goal is to create a culture here in this facility … that is safe and inviting for everyone,” Tavares said.

The attempt to reform sexual harassment training standards comes after several incidents at the Statehouse. Sen. Cliff Hite, a Findlay Republican, resigned over allegations of improper conduct in October. Michael Premo, the Ohio Senate Democrats’ chief of staff, was pushed out of his position in November over allegations of improper conduct around staff.

State Rep. Wes Goodman, a Cardington Republican, resigned in November over allegations of sexual conduct with a man in his office — and emails later revealed allegations that he groped an 18-year-old college student.

Then, shortly after lawmakers completed mandated sexual harassment training, Sen. Matt Huffman, R-Lima , and Rep. Bill Seitz, R- Cincinnati, drew criticism for crude comments they made about women at a Downtown party, prompting House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, to call for a bipartisan working group to examine the issue of sexual harassment.

“I think they’re coming up with some good suggestions” Rosenberger said, declining to elaborate. He hopes to see final recommendations on policies for both the House and broader agencies before lawmakers break for the summer.

Sen. Cecil Thomas, D-Cincinnati, said the training legislators underwent was “absolutely not” sufficient. Thomas said he was embarrassed by the behavior of some of his colleagues.

“The culture that has existed for many years,” Thomas said. “This legislation is an attempt to change that culture, to open to door for women to be able to speak out.”

Sen. Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland, said Ohio would be setting a national example by passing such legislation.

“If it’s passed, it will be one of the strongest anti-harassment pieces of legislation in the country,” Williams said. “It will make it a lot easier for both men and women on Capitol Square to feel safe when they are at work.”

While national movements like #MeToo and #TimesUp have been widespread nationwide, Williams said the legislation was not in response the the national movements, but rather a young woman who came to Sen. Tavares and herself in fear.

“This has been going on for a long time,” Williams said.

Tavares said she hopes to get bipartisan support for the bill.