Female lawmakers debate what to do about sexual harassment at Statehouse

Recent revelation of inappropriate behavior by an Ohio state senator came right in the middle of several high-profile accusations in the national media

ohio statehouse columbus ohio
Ohio Statehouse, Columbus.

COLUMBUS (WKBN) – Sometimes you just got to get it down on paper and that’s what State Senator Charleta Tavares did with her open letter on sexual harassment at the Ohio Legislature.

Recent revelation of inappropriate behavior by a state senator came right in the middle of several high-profile accusations of sexual harassment being discussed in the national media.

As Tavares points out in her letter, Ohio’s legislature has the dubious distinction of being added to a list of other state legislatures where misconduct has taken place.

Not only does it disappoint her, but she isn’t really surprised by it, saying this has been going on for years.

Tavares first started working at the legislature in her early 20s and she says looking back, she, too, experienced inappropriate conversations.

Over the years, she has heard tales from staff members and lobbyists of similar inappropriate conversations.

Tavares believes this has been perpetuated by a male-dominated culture at the Statehouse.

Similar to other industries where males and females are disproportionately represented, Tavares says the culture is a reflection of the values therein.

Recent declarations from both the Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger and Senate President Larry Obhof to mandate harassment training for all legislators and staff are a good first step, according to Tavares.

She wants more done and that may mean legislation.

Last week, Speaker Rosenberger rejected the idea that legislation was not only needed but appropriate.

He says the power to mandate training of this sort should be left up to the Speaker of the House and Senate President.

But Tavares says for this issue, that power needs to be set aside because it should be left up to one person to decide such things.

Tavares’ letter was signed by several Democratic lawmakers and staffers.

State Representative Sarah LaTourette is a Republican and agrees with Tavares on a number of points — that sexual harassment is disgusting and should not be permitted at the Statehouse, and there is always more that can be done to keep it from happening.

But she disagrees with several of Tavares’ positions. LaTourette, much like Rosenberger, does not think legislation is the answer but is open to permanently mandating the training.

“I don’t see a problem with saying this is going to be something we mandate moving forward,” LaTourette said. “A lot of my colleagues have made the point that in the business world, in the private sector, this is something they are already required to go through. It’s something they already do on an annual basis and so expecting us to do the same as the state legislature, I don’t think is uncalled for. I think it is something that we need to be doing.”

She also feels like the same culture Tavares says is unhealthy is in a good place in terms of the seriousness House leadership takes accusations of harassment, going so far as to applaud Rosenberger for his actions.

When asked if she feels safe, LaTourette says she does and insists the Capitol is.

Tavares isn’t so sure and urges the leadership of both parties in both chambers of the General Assembly to find a solution and monitor things together.

“The tone and the culture have to change,” she said. “We’ve got to bring more women into the General Assembly, we’ve got to make sure that the perspectives and what is appropriate for women throughout the State of Ohio starts here in the General Assembly.”

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