The Iowa Senate adopted a new sexual harassment prevention policy Tuesday as part of its response to a high-profile $1.75 million harassment settlement against Senate Republicans.
The new policy creates a formal process for complaints, protects victims from retaliation, and sets out a process for punishing those who violate anti-harassment and retaliation policies. It also allows victims to seek an external investigation if they don’t think an internal investigation would be adequate.
Republican Senate President Charles Schneider said he started attending meetings about the policy update after a recent change in Senate leadership.
“We wanted to make sure that we created an environment that people feel safe in to come to work and that people feel safe to send their kids to,” Schneider said. “We just knew we had to get it done.”
He added there is always work to be done on this topic, which is why the policy will be reviewed each year.
Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen said she has been waiting four years for this.
“I’m hopeful this will be a first step in the right direction to changing the culture and making the Iowa Senate a more welcome and open place to work,” Petersen said.
The lawsuit that precipitated these changes focused on former Senate GOP staffer Kirsten Anderson, who complained about sexual comments in the office. She was fired hours after making complaint, and in 2017, a court awarded her $1.75 million.
The senator in charge of that office, former Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, resigned abruptly about a month ago when a video appeared to show him kissing a lobbyist. Some lawmakers were calling for his resignation months earlier because of his involvement in the settlement, which was covered by taxpayers.
The new policies fulfill some of the recommendations made by former state senator Mary Kramer. When her report was released in January, Kramer wrote, “There is nothing that has changed to prevent additional inappropriate behavior and ensuing problems.”
The policy change also comes just two weeks after an aide to a Republican senator was fired for sexual harassment.