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State Denies Iowa Lawmaker's Request For Harassment Information

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John Pemble/IPR file photo
The state says the requested information is sensitive and must be kept confidential. Rep. Amy Nielsen says she is only asking for numbers, such as the number of active harassment investigations in state agencies.

Gov. Kim Reynolds’ administration is refusing to release information about how many harassment complaints are being investigated in state agencies. The state lawmaker seeking the information filed a complaint Wednesday with the Iowa Public Information Board.

Rep. Amy Nielsen, D-North Liberty, said she wants the data because the state recently paid $7.5 million to four women who were sexually harassed while working for the Iowa Legislature and state agencies.

She said the public is stuck with the bill, and there might be other settlements the public doesn’t know about.

“The public needs to know what kind of culture is up here, what’s going on,” Nielsen said. “And then they need to know we’re actually doing something and getting results.”

She said there is no way to check if new anti-harassment policies are working if numbers are not available.

Reynolds spokesman Pat Garrett said in an email Nielsen is asking for “sensitive information” that the state must keep confidential under Iowa law.

“Gov. Reynolds is committed to protecting the victims of sexual harassment and their right for confidentiality,” Garrett said.

Nielsen asked for the number of active harassment investigations in state agencies and the number of complaints investigated in the past five years. She also asked for the number of disciplinary actions taken due to harassment, and the number of founded harassment allegations.

Nielsen said those numbers would not include information that could lead to identifying individuals involved.

Garrett provided a letter from the Department of Administrative Services to the Legislative Services Agency. In the letter, the answers to Nielsen’s questions are redacted.

“DAS position is that even in aggregated form broken down by fiscal year, publication of this information could potentially compromise a victim’s confidentiality interests,” DAS Director Janet Phipps wrote in the letter.

A letter from Iowa Solicitor General Jeffrey Thompson to Rep. Nielsen states the information is confidential. But he said lawmakers have the ability to get confidential information from state agencies if requested through the Legislative Services Agency.

“This provides an alternative avenue to obtain information relevant to your work as a legislator while protecting the confidential nature of that information,” Thompson wrote.

But Nielsen has not seen the data.

Nielsen was asked if she thinks state officials are hiding something.

“Boy, as much trouble as they’re going to keep this information from me, it’s looking clearer and clearer that that’s the case,” Nielsen said.

Nielsen added state agencies could possibly be paying for legal settlements with discretionary funds without the public finding out.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter