Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix backs out of plan to address sexual harassment in Republican Senate caucus

State Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix. — illustration by Jordan Sellergren

Just days after it was announced the Iowa Senate Republicans would be hiring a human resources manager to prevent further sexual harassment in their caucus, Sen. Majority Leader Bill Dix said he’s changed his mind.

“We’re not saying that’s not going to happen [hiring a human resources manager], we’re delaying until we get the advice of an outside professional,” Dix told reporters during a press conference at the state capitol.

In July, a jury awarded $2.2 million in damages to former communications director for the Senate Republican caucus Kirsten Anderson, after finding the caucus violated laws against workplace sexual harassment, discrimination and retaliation. It was announced last week that Dix and his fellow Republican, Iowa House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, had agreed to jointly hire a human resources manager for the legislature to ensure it functions as a non-hostile workplace.

Dix said a staffer had sent him an email raising “concerns” about the hiring of the human resources manager. Dix explained he couldn’t enumerate what those concerns were, because he didn’t have the email in front of him.

According to Dix, the concerns were enough to make him go back on his agreement with Upmeyer. Instead, Dix said he will hire a consultant to advise him whether Senate Republicans should hire a human resources manager.

“When you have an illness or sore tooth, whatever it is, you go to a professional. And it just struck me with the concerns that were raised — they seemed to be legitimate — we should go to somebody professional in that, who deals with those issues on a daily basis, and is mindful of some of the best practices that can be pursued today,” Dix said.

Asked what sort of consultant he planned to hire, Dix replied, “At this time, I don’t have any preconceived notions who it is. That’s something we should go through a procurement process that’s highlighted in state government regulations, and proceed in that manner to make sure that we find somebody highly qualified to do the job.”

Dix said he had no idea how long it would take to hire a consultant, or how much it would cost. “All I know is that the resources are available within the Senate budget to accomplish this,” he said, regarding the cost.

In a written statement issued after Dix’s press conference, Speaker Upmeyer said she would still be hiring a human resources manager for the House “in order to provide the best working environment we can for our employees.”

During the course of his 30-minute press conference, Dix also expressed uncertainty whether the recently concluded investigation he ordered into whether sexual harassment was still occurring in the Senate Republican caucus had actually produced the written report that was announced earlier this week. After Dix was asked about the existence of the report several times, Secretary of the Senate Charlie Smithson, who was also in the room, said there is a written report. Dix, however, said he had not seen the report, and will not make it public.

Dix said he was confident that sexual harassment, racist behavior and the other problems in the caucus revealed during the Anderson trial had all been solved, because he has been told that no new complaints have been filed.

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