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Republican Leader Backs Off Plan to Combat Sexual Harassment, Defends Secret Investigation

Joyce Russell/IPR
Sen. Majority Leader Bill Dix (R-Shell Rock)

Majority Republicans in the Iowa Senate have altered their plans for addressing sexual harassment after internal dissent about how to proceed.  

They’ve scuttled a plan to hire a human resources director to hear sexual harassment complaints in the future, but House Republicans disagree. 

Senate Republicans are addressing the issue after former senate staffer Kirsten Anderson won a $1.75 million sexual harassment settlement.  

We are asking the best way to address this. -Sen. Bill Dix

Last week leaders announced they would hire a human resources manager.    

Critics, including a Republican staffer, questioned the independence of such a hire.    Majority Leader Bill Dix said that’s the main reason why they’re now backing off the plan

“Honestly it can be summed up in accountability,” Dix said in a news conference  with statehouse reporters.  “I think that's the main concern.” 

Instead, Senate Republicans will hire an outside consultant to advise them on best practices.

"I'm a farmer,” Dix said.  “I don't deal with human relations issues on a daily basis.

I think it should be made public. -Gov. Kim Reynolds

“We are asking the best way to address this,” Dix said.

But House GOP Leader Linda Upmeyer will proceed with hiring a human resources manager.

“I believe that this is the right decision,” Upmeyer said in an e-mail.  "A human resources professional, dedicated to that role, will provide expertise and continuity in an increasingly complex field in order to provide the best working environment we can for our employees.”

Dix confirmed he would not be releasing the results of an internal investigation of sexual harassment in the Senate, citing employee confidentiality.

Both Upmeyer and Governor Reynolds disagree.  

There have been no new complaints. -Sen. Dix

"If this is new information that was not brought out through the trial process, then I think that it should be made public," Reynolds said.  

Dix was grilled on the resignation of the Senate staffer Jim Friedrich, whose sexually-charged remarks made up much of the trial testimony.   

Friedrich offered a letter of resignation in September, months after the testimony accusing him. 

Dix said he believed the testimony, but he declined to explain why Friedrich remained on staff for so long.    

Kirsten Anderson was fired in May of 2013 shortly after complaining of sexual harassment.   A jury agreed that was retaliation.  

Dix maintained again at the news conference that Anderson was fired for poor job performance.

“The jury saw it differently,” Dix said.

Reporters asked Dix how the problem can be fixed under his leadership.

“Everyone here knows that prior to the trial and even today we have zero tolerance with respect to sexual harassment and we're going to continue that,” Dix said.   “There have been no new complaints.”