Exploring investigative options while OH lawmakers mull harassment training

COLUMBUS, Ohio (WDTN) – Less than 24 hours after Ohio Senate President Larry Obhof announced lawmakers in the chamber and Senate staff would undergo mandatory harassment training, some wanted more specifics.

Unfortunately, there were none to be had. Logistically speaking such training needs to be discussed and planned for.

Do they use the method that is already being employed by the Senate for its employees, of which Senators are not?

Currently, when someone is hired to work for the Senate, as a legislative aid for instance, they are presented an employee handbook according to Vincent Keeran, the Clerk of the Senate.

Keeran says, someone sits with the new employee and goes over the handbook with them. The employee is then handed a piece of paper that asks them to sign in acknowledgment they have received the handbook and that it is their responsibility to read and comply with its contents.

They are also presented with a second document to sign that seeks to verify they have indeed received a copy of the manual, read its contents, and that they understand it.

Keeran also stated that the Senate hold periodic reviews of topics from the handbook, including workplace harassment.

However, he could not recall the exact date of the last review and said it had occurred sometime in the last four years.

State Senator Charleta Tavares says, that is not frequent enough.

When asked why reviews of harassment are not more frequent, Keeran stated turnover was high, and that employees were encouraged to ask questions if they had any after receiving and reading their employee handbook.

The handbook itself goes into detail about how to handle harassment in the workplace.

It also explains that the Senate Chief of Staff will open an investigation as soon as a complaint is filed with they become aware of an incident.

Senators, as has been mentioned, are not employees of the Senate and are regulated by a different document.

The Legislative Code of Conduct is voted on by all legislators at the beginning of every General Assembly, and the 132nd is no different.

The first line of the code of conduct reads:

“All members of the senate or the house of representatives shall conduct themselves at all times so as to reflect credit upon the member’s respective chamber of the general assembly,”

Perhaps that was not clear enough, so Obhof announced that all members of the Senate will have to go through mandatory harassment training in the near future; and committed to making such training a part of the caucuses regular training that occurs at the beginning of every General Assembly during the GOP Caucus retreat.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and to the extent that there may be any ambiguity out there, I want to send a loud and clear message that we shouldn’t have ambiguity,” said Obhof.

Tavares wants to make this training something that is part of the legislature’s rules through a resolution or piece of legislation.

“I think we need ongoing training, I think it should be required training first of all for all staff but also for members of the general assembly,” said Tavares.

She is hoping both parties in both chambers can come together to develop these rules so everyone is on the same page about what is expected and it isn’t left up to interpretation of what is considered appropriate or not.

She would like to see these things implemented as soon as possible.

And Tavares says she isn’t aware of any other incidents of inappropriate behavior, but if there ever was a time for someone to come forward with a complaint now is the time to do so.

“We can only take the word of those who either something has happened to or something that was said that was inappropriate and encourage them, now, to step forward,” said Tavares.

In the meantime, it is unclear if accusations against former Senator Hite are still being investigated.

Tony Bledsoe is the Ohio Legislative Inspector General. His office along with a group of legislators, who make up the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee, would typically be the investigative force behind accusations that a legislator broke the Code of Ethics.

Bledsoe is prohibited by law to tell us if Hite is or will be investigated by JLEC.

What he can say is, if an investigation is completed and the committee either forwards its findings to a prosecuting attorney for them to decide if charges are warranted, or if the committee censures the accused; the findings would become public.

Wednesday Obhof told reporters he spoke to Hite about his options, one of which was resignation; an option Obhof says he strongly suggested to Hite in their first meeting about the inappropriate behavior.

Obhof would not go into detail about what the other options were, however, a refusal to resign would have obviously led to a formal investigation.

No timetable has been released on how, where, or when the mandatory harassment training will be conducted.

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