COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Ohio’s 132nd General Assembly has been rocked by several sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior scandals over the past six months.
As a result, a piece of legislation has been introduced that seeks to set up anti-harassment standards everyone that works in the building, from lawmakers to their staff to lobbyists to journalists would have to follow.
“Our goal is to create a culture here in this facility and the facilities that are inhabited by members of the General Assembly and those who work with us that is safe and inviting for everyone,” said State Senator Charleta Tavares, sponsor of the bill.
The bill would require sexual harassment policies to be public, kept on file, and reviewed every two years for all entities or individuals who work on Capital Square within the Statehouse.
It would also include annual sexual harassment training, and create a sexual harassment task force that would review all sexual harassment policies, conduct surveys to understand the workplace climate, and recommend best practices for legislative or administrative changes.
Finally, the bill would keep the identity of victims of harassment private during and after any investigations of wrongdoing.
“If it’s passed it will be one of the strongest anti-sexual harassment pieces of legislation in the country,” said State Senator Sandra Williams, a co-sponsor of the bill.
So far support for the bill appears to be along party lines with a deafening amount of Republican silence.
“We did send a notice to all members of the Senate and called each of the offices to encourage everyone to join on but the only co-sponsors I have at this point are the members of my democratic caucus,” said Tavares.
State Senator Cecil Thomas, another co-sponsor of the bill, stood with Williams and Tavares at the announcement news conference.
“The climate around the country is changing and this legislation is part of that,” said Thomas.
Thomas also said that he has been embarrassed by what has gone on here at the Statehouse recently, and he feels it is his duty to challenge his male counterparts to support the bill.
“We as legislators must be held to a higher standard,” said Thomas.
The bill has been introduced and given a number. It will now go to the Rules and Reference Committee where Senate President Larry Obhof will chair the process of assigning it to a committee.
We will be watching to see how long that will take and just how quickly it receives any hearings.
By legislative rule, every bill must get at least one hearing but there is no obligation to provide further hearings after that.
Many Democratic-sponsored bills are still waiting for their first hearings in committees in both chambers of the legislature which is controlled by GOP Caucuses.
It took a personally delivered letter to the Senate President nearly two months after Senator Thomas’ ban on bump stocks bill was introduced to get the measure assigned to a committee and it still has not had its first hearing more than two months after that.
Earlier this year, GOP leaders in the House and Senate said there would be zero-tolerance for sexual harassment and bad behavior at the statehouse after the Cliff Hite scandal.
Both Senate President Obhof and Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger mandated sexual harassment training to be conducted for all legislators and their staff.
Less than a week after the House of Representatives went through their training, a number of lawmakers were accused of inappropriate comments degrading women at a going-away party for a long-time GOP staffer.
Both of the accused members are still lawmakers, their reprimands were little more than a slap on the wrist with one of them forced to apologize for their comments.
How the GOP-led legislature handles Senator Tavares’ legislation; much like how it handles bills introduced by Democrats, especially when they deal with guns and gun violence; will send a message.
What voters take away from that message may impact this year’s elections.