COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — State lawmakers in Ohio and across the U.S. face newly imposed requirements for sexual harassment training in the wake of sexual misconduct scandals that have swept the nation and forced resignations in both chambers of Ohio’s state Legislature.
A 50-state review by The Associated Press found that almost all legislative chambers now have at least some type of written sexual harassment policy, though they vary widely, and many are placing a greater emphasis on preventing and punishing sexual misconduct as they convene for their 2018 sessions.
Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof, a Republican, imposed the requirement on all senators and staff members in October, after then-state Sen. Cliff Hite resigned amid allegations that the Republican legislator had spoken and acted inappropriately toward a female state worker.
GOP House Speaker Clifford Rosenberger informed representatives and staff of new mandatory sexual harassment training requirements Jan. 2, according to a memo obtained by the AP. Republican Rep. Wes Goodman resigned in November after House leaders say he admitted to having a sexual encounter in his state office.
In the past, state lawmakers’ primary sexual harassment training occurred during orientation. Long-time lawmakers might not have received it for years. Though Ohio has term limits, legislators who plan it right can move between the House and Senate for decades, which would prevent them from needing to attend new-member orientation.
Obhof was swift to announce the new training after the Hite case came to light. The veteran senator, from Findlay, resigned Oct. 16 after a sexual harassment complaint was filed against him. According to an investigative memo, he had been having inappropriate conversations and made physical contact with a female legislative staff member for two months and repeatedly propositioned her for sex.
Shortly after Obhof’s decision, Senate Democrats’ chief of staff, Michael Premo, also resigned abruptly over unspecified allegations of inappropriate conduct. Public records released in response to AP requests provided no new details of Premo’s actions.
Rosenberger, too, supported the need to have additional sexual harassment training after public records requests to the House revealed that three more state lawmakers had been disciplined over harassment claims in recent years and an aide had been terminated in a separate harassment case. But the situation escalated when Goodman suddenly resigned a couple weeks later.
The news prompted a flood of firsthand accounts, official confirmations and document releases that shed light on a pattern of secret encounters with other men by Goodman, a Christian conservative who opposed LGBT rights.
A memo from Rosenberger’s chief of staff earlier this month said all representatives and staff will be expected to complete training in the early part of this year.