DES MOINES, Iowa — The Iowa Legislature has done nothing “to prevent additional inappropriate behavior and ensuing problems” after sexual misconduct allegations were reported in the Republican Senate caucus, according to a report released Friday by a former GOP lawmaker.
Mary Kramer, a past Iowa Senate president and U.S. ambassador, wrote that a formal process needed to be established in which all employees at the Capitol could file misconduct complaints. Her report also stressed there must be assurance that any complaint will be investigated in a fair and impartial manner.
“It behooves the Iowa Legislature to take the matter seriously and to act quickly,” said Kramer, who was appointed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix to review workplace policies in part because of her experience in human resources.
Kramer’s voluntary recommendations were requested in response to public criticism that Dix mishandled the release of an internal investigation of Senate Republican staffers that found many were unlikely to report workplace misconduct because of fear of retaliation. The investigation was launched after a $1.75 million settlement last year between the state and a former staffer who said in a lawsuit she was fired after reporting sexual harassment.
In her four-page report, Kramer recommended establishing clear guidelines for discipline if allegations are substantiated against workers at the statehouse, including elected lawmakers, nonpartisan staff, lobbyists and the media. She also suggested that all of those workers receive training every legislative session “regarding what constitutes inappropriate behavior.”
In the Senate, an existing legislative ethics committee should clarify the process for investigating misconduct allegations against senators, Kramer said. The report specifically cited Senate policies because Kramer was asked to review the chamber’s workplace issues, but she said she wanted to provide suggestions for the entire Legislature.
The report presents the first blueprint for how lawmakers and others at the Capitol could improve their response to workplace misconduct allegations after the lawsuit filed by Kirsten Anderson, a former communications director for Senate Republicans. Her suit was filed years ago, but a trial was held last year. Testimony highlighted multiple allegations of workplace misconduct, which prompted the internal investigation.
Senate Republicans initially refused to release results of the investigation, citing employee privacy concerns. Dix, a Shell Rock Republican, relented to pressure from his party and released a heavily redacted document in late November.
It showed that senators made “sexually suggestive comments” or discussed “sexual preferences” on the chamber floor in recent years, along with the concerns about reporting misconduct.
Non-partisan staff members who work in the Republican-controlled Senate and House have since hired a human resources director to oversee harassment complaints and other issues. That person begins work later this month. Kramer acknowledged the role such a director can have in addressing the issue, but she made clear much more needs to be done.
Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen, who highlighted workplace harassment in a speech Monday, said Friday she agreed with Kramer’s assessment that nothing has changed to prevent future problems. The Des Moines Democrat said she wants Senate Republican leadership to work “to adopt a more bipartisan, transparent and open process to solving this serious problem. Otherwise, they are doing a disservice to Iowans, including our staff and our constituents.”
Senate President Jack Whitver, a Republican from Ankeny, said his caucus would work with the new human resources manager to implement the recommendations.
Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds’ spokeswoman said the governor “looks forward to reviewing the report.” Reynolds has said she would wait for Kramer’s recommendations to determine how to respond. She said Tuesday during the annual Condition of the State address that sexual harassment “has been a stain on our culture … and it must stop,” though she offered few specifics.