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Fedor bill would mandate state employee sexual harassment training

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    Teresa Fedor

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    State Rep. Teresa Fedor.

State Rep. Teresa Fedor of Toledo is teaming up with a Democratic state representative from Akron to pass legislation that would mandate training in recognizing and preventing sexual harassment among state workers.

Ms. Fedor said the need for a sexual harassment training law came to light after the recent flood of high-profile accusations of women being sexually harassed by men at work.

She initiated the idea for the Safe at Work Act, and Rep. Tavia Galonski (D., Akron) has done the research for the bill. Ms. Galonski will be the lead sponsor, Ms. Fedor said.

“[Representative Galonski] did the checking and said it’s woefully inadequate. We said that’s something we can fix,” Ms. Fedor said. 

To pass legislation, Democrats in the state General Assembly need Republican backing. Ms. Fedor said she was told by state Rep. Kirk Schuring (R., Canton), the speaker pro tem, that Republican leadership will help work on the bill. Mr. Schuring could not be reached for comment.

“It is clear that this is a turning point in the ongoing conversation about sexual harassment and assault,” Ms. Fedor said.

Ms. Galonski said the legislation will start with training for the House members and staff and then expand to encompass all state employees.

“There are words written in a policy [for state employees]. I’m just saying it’s vague and certainly it did not include mandatory training,” Ms. Galonski said. “What’s driving this is a national awareness, and people are beginning to believe those who come forward as victims.”

Brad Miller, spokesman for House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R., Clarksville), said the speaker has already mandated training for House members and staff, though it is on a year-to-year basis.

“Leadership has agreed to sitting down with Representatives Fedor and Galonski to discuss the legislation before it’s introduced. We haven’t seen the language of the bill itself but we’re looking forward to getting that process started in January,” Mr. Miller said.

The Kasich administration issued an anti-harassment executive order in 2011 that prohibited sexual harassment and unwelcome sexual advances and set out a procedure for making a complaint.

Tom Hoyt, spokesman for the Department of Administrative Services, said the administration in November began mandating training for the governor’s staff, cabinet directors, and their leadership teams.

“We’re also developing an online training module that will be required for every state employee,” Mr. Hoyt said.

Former state Sen. Cliff Hite (R., Findlay) resigned Oct. 17 after a sexual harassment complaint filed against him by a Statehouse employee. Former Rep. Wes Goodman (R., Cardington) resigned on Nov. 14 for inappropriate sexual behavior in his House office.

Outside of Ohio, high profile and powerful men in entertainment, media, and politics have been accused of sexual misconduct, and sometimes forced to resign.

Ms. Fedor, who chairs the House Democratic women’s caucus, said she was surprised to find the state does not mandate training in sexual harassment.

“However, not everyone knows what sexual harassment looks like or is. People will continue to feel unsafe and uncertain in the workplace until people know what harassment is, how to prevent it, what to do when it occurs to them, and what to do when they see it happen, and what the consequences will be when someone crosses the line,” she said in a letter to colleagues seeking co-sponsorship.

U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo) on Wednesday told House Democratic colleagues in a closed meeting that wearing revealing clothing was an “invitation” to sexual harassment.

Ms. Fedor refused to comment on Miss Kaptur’s remarks. She said there is nothing in the Safe At Work Act about how women should dress.

“There’d be no dress code or any indication of dress,” Ms. Fedor said.

She said that House pages have a dress code, as do employees in the statehouse. Ms. Fedor said that years ago she sent home a female page because of how she was dressed.

“I mentioned that she’s not dressed appropriately, I think her skirt was too short, it was years back, so I asked her to go home and change,” Ms. Fedor said, which she did. “Dress codes are in place for a reason.”

The bill requires training within 60 days of being employed or sworn in, and all current employees would have to be trained within 60 days of the bill’s effective date. The bill would allow one year to give the state time to build and implement its training before the training must begin.

Contact Tom Troy at tomtroy@theblade.com419-724-6058, or on Twitter @TomFTroy.

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