Iowa Senate Republicans hold no one accountable for sexual harassment case

Iowa Senate Republicans voted last Friday to make no changes in the caucus’s staff or leadership, following a sexual harassment lawsuit that led to a $2.2 million verdict against the state. Instead, Secretary of the Senate Charlie Smithson will internally review allegations that came to light through Kirsten Anderson’s lawsuit, with the chamber’s number two Republican, Senate President Jack Whitver, “overseeing the investigation.”

Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix has claimed repeatedly that any problems relating to a hostile work environment were resolved soon after he took charge of the Senate GOP caucus in late 2012. But court testimony indicated that neither senators nor top Republican staffers ever asked others employed by the caucus whether they had observed sexual harassment or other offensive workplace conduct. Although Dix admitted hearing about matters “I was not aware of” during the trial, he still insists Anderson was fired in May 2013 solely because of her work product. Meanwhile, the current Iowa Senate Republican communications staffers occupy themselves with who-knows-what, as opposed to keeping the website and social media feeds current.

Dix confirmed that Republicans will not cover the costs of any payout to Anderson, opting to let taxpayers foot the bill for the lack of professionalism that persisted for years.

Republicans’ failure to hold anyone accountable for this debacle underscores the need for independent consultants to take a hard look at what happened in the Senate GOP caucus and how to fix the work environment. Anderson has asked a Polk County District Court to make that happen.

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Weekend open thread: Short-sighted elected officials edition

Who knew that when you tell a state agency leader to save another $1.3 million somehow, he might cut some important programs and services? Not State Representative Dave Heaton, the Republican chair of the Iowa legislature’s Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee.

Who knew that when you impeach a mayor using a kangaroo court proceeding, a judge might order the mayor reinstated while her appeal is pending? Not Muscatine City Council members.

Follow me after the jump for more on those stories. This is an open thread: all topics welcome.

I’m also interested to know what readers think about Iowa Insurance Commissioner Doug Ommen’s request to waive certain provisions of the Affordable Care Act in order to bring Wellmark Blue Cross/Blue Shield back to Iowa’s individual insurance market for 2018. Elements of the “stopgap” measure violate federal law; health care law expert Timothy Jost told the Des Moines Register’s Tony Leys that some parts of Ommen’s proposal are “extremely problematic” and not likely “doable.” Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Anna Wilde Mathews and Louise Radnofsky saw the Iowa developments as “a key test of the ability to modify the [Affordable Care Act] through executive authority.” Slate’s Jordan Weissmann agreed.

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Where things stand with Iowa's new anti-abortion law

Ten days after Governor Terry Branstad signed sweeping limits on access to abortions, part of the new law is still on hold while courts consider a challenge filed by Planned Parenthood of the Heartland. Planned Parenthood maintains that a 72-hour waiting period for abortions at any stage of pregnancy would violate women’s due process and equal protection guarantees. In addition to creating an “undue burden” for women with “onerous and medically unnecessary restrictions that the Iowa Legislature does not impose upon any other medical procedure for which people may consent,” the law imposes new requirements for physicians, which Planned Parenthood is challenging as a violation of the doctors’ due process rights.

That aspect of the lawsuit informed the Iowa Supreme Court’s May 9 order continuing a temporary injunction. The high court found, “The State has failed to rebut the assertion by the petitioners that the materials that serve as the foundation information required to be provided to women seeking an abortion have not yet been developed by the Department of Public Health pursuant to the law.” The order remanded the case back to Polk County District Court, where within 30 days, Judge Jeffrey Farrell will hold a final hearing on Planned Parenthood’s request for an injunction on the new law. Farrell had denied the first request for a temporary injunction, saying plaintiffs had not shown new burdens on women seeking abortions in Iowa would constitute an “undue burden.”

For those who want a preview of the legal points Farrell will consider when he decides whether to block enforcement of Iowa’s law, I enclose below four documents:

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Not with a bang but a whimper - quiet conclusion to Muscatine impeachment

I’ll be stunned if this holds up in court after reading Tracy Leone’s previous reports on the unprecedented effort to remove the Muscatine mayor. -promoted by desmoinesdem

There were almost as many journalists in the room as there were Muscatine residents present when the city council voted unanimously on May 11 to remove Mayor Diana Broderson from office in the conclusion of the first impeachment trial in Iowa history. (Watch the video of the meeting, which lasted less than three minutes.)

The special council meeting was called shortly after the deadline for defense and prosecution attorneys to submit their evidence Tuesday, May 2.

The decision to remove the mayor was the single issue on the agenda. The copies of the agenda sitting on a small table just inside council chambers stated that this would be an “In-Depth” meeting. The second item on the agenda after the roll call said there would be “Discussion and Possible Action Regarding Petition to Remove Mayor”. It was followed by four bullet points:

• Post-Hearing Brief in Support of Removal of Mayor – John Nahra
• Finding of Fact and Order on the City of Muscatine’s Written Charges of Removal – John Nahra
• Brief and Memorandum of Law – William Sueppel
• Proposed Decision – William Sueppel

After all this thoughtful discussion from the prosecution and defense, the third item on the agenda there said there would be a time for “Comments”, assumedly from the public.

None of that “in-depth” consideration happened.

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Early clues about the Kim Reynolds leadership style are not encouraging

Lieutenant Governor Kim Reynolds will likely begin performing the duties of our state’s highest office very soon, following Governor Terry Branstad’s expected confirmation as U.S. ambassador to China. Speaking to journalists, some Republicans who have worked with Reynolds have enthused about her willingness to study the issues and be engaged in policy-making as part of her long preparation for the job.

Unfortunately, the way Reynolds has handled the controversy surrounding her authority to appoint a new lieutenant governor has revealed a willful disdain for research and opposing views.

Now, she admits she may have trouble working with Attorney General Tom Miller, whom she views as “my legal counsel” interfering with “my plan.”

If recent events reflect how Reynolds will approach other complicated and contentious issues, Iowans have reason to worry.

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