Three more Ohio legislators and an aide were added to the burgeoning list Wednesday of those who engaged in various types of harassment, while speculation swirls that more lawmakers could get caught up in the type of scandalous behavior that forced a senator to resign last month.
"Welcome to high school," Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, said Wednesday when asked about the rumors.
"I think it's a dangerous place when we're just throwing innuendo and rumor out there without any substantial facts or backing to those things," he said. "I think it is going a little rampant and crazy. I'm sure there's a lot of things that happen, but if we don't know about them, we can't address them."
Responding to public records requests, Rosenbergerreleased information on harassment complaints Wednesday from the past two legislative sessions, including one against Rep. Mike Henne, R-Clayton, who said something during a luncheon in April 2015 that offended a female House employee sitting at his table. The details of the remark have not been made public.
"I am embarrassed that someone was offended by something I said," Henne told the Dispatch. "I sincerely regret it."
He was ordered to complete sensitivity training and was removed by House leadership from his position as vice-chairman of the House Insurance Committee — a position he regained at the start of the current session.
House Chief Administrative Officer Kim Flasher said in a report that the conduct was inappropriate but did not rise to creating an "intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment."
None of the other incidents released Wednesday dealt with sexual harassment. They included:
•In May 2016, a House Republican legislative aide, Mark Homyak, was fired after he was investigated for an unspecified violation of the House’s anti-harassment policy. Records do not show what he did to get fired.
•In June 2016, Rep. Stephanie Howse, D-Cleveland, was the subject of a harassment complaint involving a racial comment to a staffer. In consultation with House Democratic leader Fred Strahorn, she was removed from her ranking member position on a House committee last session. No documents were provided to detail the complaint.
•In March 2017, a complaint was filed against Rep. Bernadine Kennedy Kent, D-Columbus, for actions involving her former legislative aide, who said in a letter she suffered from an unknown medical condition. The woman said Kennedy Kent tried to require her to work after her assigned hours, transport her as directed, even when out of town, and required her to attend all sessions and committee hearings.
"I strongly feel that her demands expressed to me ... were threatening and retaliatory in nature and will be used to declare me insubordinate and request my resignation or terminate me," the woman wrote. Kent was directed to undergo remedial training.
Rosenberger said he is going to begin annual mandatory harassment and diversity training for all House members and staff, similar to what Senate President Larry Obhof, R-Medina, announced for his chamber following Sen. Cliff Hite's abrupt resignation last month. The Findlay Republican faced accusations by an unidentified Legislative Service Commission staffer that he repeatedly made advances toward her, including hugs and offers of sex at his Columbus condo.
Gov. John Kasich said he met Wednesday with Rosenberger and Obhof.
"They want full disclosure. ... They said they are disclosing everything and I don't have any reason to believe they are not," Kasich said. "Cliff told me today they have a zero-tolerance policy."
Henne, 55, said that until he was informed about the complaint a week or two after the luncheon, he was unaware he had said anything that offended someone.
"I should have known better. It was a lapse in judgment," Henne said.
Hite’s resignation, plus the recent increase nationally in revelations of sexual harassment, has fueled speculation that other lawmakers could face accusations.
"Discrimination or harassment of any nature is not acceptable. I have zero tolerance for it," Rosenberger said.
Strahorn said Democrats also take accusations seriously and "will continue doing everything we can to ensure the Statehouse is free from harassment."
Meanwhile, Hite’s decision to resign from his seat following allegations of sexual harassment appears to have put an end to possible further disciplinary action on the matter, Obhof told the Legislative Service Commission this week.
After a staffer came forward to report on Hite’s conduct, Legislative Service Commission Director Mark Flanders had a staff attorney create a report detailing the woman’s allegations, some of which Hite has denied.
He sent that report to Obhof, along with a memo. "I am sending you this report in case any disciplinary investigation can be done. I feel such an investigation would be warranted."
In his written response this week, Obhof noted that the legislature can expel a member for disorderly conduct, but Hite has already resigned.
"I am unaware of any potential disciplinary actions that could be taken by the Senate above and beyond expulsion (a remedy that became moot upon Senator Hite’s resignation)," Obhof wrote in response to Flanders.
Obhof said he forwarded the investigation to Legislative Inspector General Tony Bledsoe.
While he declined to talk specifically about the Hite incident, Bledsoe said the Joint Legislative Ethics Committee has no authority over a member once the lawmaker leaves office.
GateHouse Media Ohio Reporter Randy Ludlow contributed to this story.