DES MOINES (AP) — New rules about sexual harassment of Iowa state government workers could make it tougher for taxpayers to learn about such cases and what the state is doing about the allegations.
The new rules hurriedly approved Thursday by the Legislature’s Administrative Rules Review Committee say sexual harassment complaint records can’t be released unless a court orders them to be. The old rules gave state officials some discretion to decide whether to release such records, according to the Des Moines Register.
The rules, which were proposed by the Iowa Department of Administrative Services, weren’t readily available online before the vote. The agency handles human resources issues for state government workers.
“Why the rush? Because this is an important issue, and we had a horrific incident,” agency director Janet Phipps said, alluding to Gov. Kim Reynolds’ firing of the former director of the Iowa Finance Authority, Dave Jamison. She fired him in March, a day after two employees told the Governor’s Office that he had been sexually harassing them. He has not spoken publicly about the accusations.
Reynolds’ spokeswoman, Brenna Smith, said the new rules offer more privacy to those who allege misconduct.
“This policy encourages victims and witnesses to come forward, providing a safe and confidential environment where every potential issue can be investigated and acted upon,” she said.
The Governor’s Office cited confidentiality in its initial decision to withhold a state worker’s letter accusing Jamison of sexual misconduct.
It’s not clear whether the new rules would have shrouded the accusations against Jamison.
Randy Evans, executive director of the Iowa Freedom of Information Council, said he has some misgivings about the new rules, which went into effect immediately.
“The Iowa FOI Council understands the importance of confidentiality for certain witnesses in sexual harassment investigations,” Evans said. “But the new rules give too little acknowledgment to the importance of the public being kept informed about unacceptable behavior by employees and officials working for state government.”
The Legislature doesn’t need to vote on the rules because they change administrative policies, not law.