By Julia Shanahan
On the last official day of the Iowa Legislature, a set of policies made to address sexual harassment in the state Capitol was sent from the Ethics Committee to be voted on by the whole Senate.
In a press release provided to the *DI* from Ron Parker, the director of the Senate Democratic Staff, the policies emphasize a clear path for victims to file sexual-harassment complaints and a clear path to punish any perpetrators.
These policies were pushed by Democrats and received bipartisan agreement with Senate Republicans.
Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, the Senate’s Democratic leader, took the lead on the push for clear-cut policies to address sexual harassment. Petersen said there were holes in the previous policies, and that’s what Senate Democrats worked to fix.
“Say the perpetrator was a senator — the Code of Ethics did not acknowledge a course of action, and there was not a formal pathway for a complaint and disciplinary action against senators,” Petersen said.
The new set of policies state that a victim will be protected from retaliation and discrimination when stepping forward to file a complaint; that was nonexistent and inadequate in the previous set of policies, she said.
The policies also state that there will be a clear path in punishing any senator or staff employee who attempts retaliation against a person who files a complaint.
Terry Davis, the Republican chairman in Des Moines, said both parties are working to support and shape a new set of policies.
An April 27 press release from the Office of Gov. Kim Reynolds cited the independent review for sexual harassment of former Iowa Finance Director David Jamison. Davis said he does not think this new set of policies is in correlation with this.
“The right person found out about that, it was in the past, and he should have been fired a long time ago,” Davis said.
Reynolds said in the memo that now the victims have “made the decision to release specific details” and an investigation can begin.
Petersen said the private investigator Reynolds hired is looking into a very narrow scope, and if the public had never found out about it, Reynolds would have been fine with simply firing him with hopes that the public wouldn’t find out.
Petersen also noted Reynolds’ “zero tolerance” philosophy for sexual harassment.
“You can’t just fire someone and expect that to be zero tolerance,” Petersen said. “This had been going on for years.”
The new set of policies to address sexual harassment is in direct response to the lawsuit of Kirsten Anderson, former Senate Republican communications director who was fired after filing a complaint for sexual harassment last year, Petersen said.
An Iowa jury awarded her $2.2 million, and taxpayers had to pay a $1.75 million settlement. Petersen said it’s important for taxpayers to know that the Senate does not want something like that happening again.
She said the leaders who fired Anderson conducted their own internal investigation and found that staffers were fearful of coming forward with complaints.
“When you see the only person being fired was the victim, it has a chilling effect on others from coming forward,” Petersen said.