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OLBC president reveals repeated requests to former Speakers to address "hostile work environment" in the Ohio House

Rep. Howse renews call to have racial equity and implicit bias training for lawmakers and staff
June 17, 2020
Democratic Newsroom

COLUMBUS— Ohio Legislative Black Caucus (OLBC) President State Rep. Stephanie Howse (D-Cleveland) today revealed ignored requests dating back several years to three different Speakers of the House – Larry Householder, Ryan Smith and Cliff Rosenberger – to show the repeated attempts of the OLBC to get the Majority party to address a hostile work environment in the Ohio House.

“The fact remains that racism is the bedrock by which our country was built and it pervades our institutions, including the Ohio Legislature. A denial of that fact does not make it any less true and recent events prove how deeply engrained it truly is,” Rep. Howse said. “Just because some members of the Majority party may have an aversion and discomfort to talking about race, this does not make the problem go away.

As we have seen this past week with Senator Huffman’s comments, implicit bias and racial prejudices persist in 2020. And we will never be rid of them if we do not first acknowledge and discuss them. My workplace is no different than most other workplaces in America and these problems did not just arise. I have repeatedly asked for racial equity and implicit bias training for lawmakers and staff and my requests have been ignored by three different Speakers of the House. If recent events prove anything, it is the immediate need for these conversations to be happening in not only this workplace, but in all workplaces.

So OLBC calls on the Ohio House and Senate to be an example of how Ohio can lead these difficult workplace discussions by holding racial equity and implicit bias training for lawmakers and staff as soon as possible. Let’s turn what has happened recently into a teachable moment and grow as a more compassionate governing body together.”

This statement and renewed call for action follows an emotional June 11-12 floor debate in the Ohio House where Democrats’ pleas for societal change fell on deaf ears as House Republicans voted to protect the sale of the Confederate flag at Ohio’s county fairs.

Earlier that same day, news broke that state Senator Steven Huffman’s (R-Tipp City) was fired from his job as an emergency room physician at Upper Valley Medical Center for his line of questioning during a hearing of the Senate Health Committee where he asked Angela Dawson, executive director of the Ohio Commission on Minority Health, if the “colored population” were more susceptible to COVID-19 because “they did not wash their hands as well as other groups.”  Rep. Howse responded to the news by pointing out that “there is something very wrong with a world where a lawmaker can be fired from his place of employment for being racist but keep his seat as Vice Chair of the Ohio Senate Health Committee. The private sector has deemed his behavior unacceptable, however, he faces no penalty or public rebuke from Senate leadership and the Republican party.”

House Republicans have also refused to hold a single hearing for HCR 31 which would declare racism a public health crisis. This is a resolution that is not just symbolic, but that contains numerous substantive steps to address racism including providing tools to engage actively and authentically with communities of color on issues of racism as well as promoting racially equitable economic and workforce development practices. The resolution also calls for a promotion and encouragement of all policies that prioritize the health of people of color, and support local, state, regional, and federal initiatives that advance efforts to dismantle systematic racism and mitigate exposure to adverse childhood experience and trauma including a training of all elected officials, staff, funders and grantees on workplace biases and how to mitigate them.