A top Democrat today said it’s time to address the “disgraceful” and “predatory behavior” in the Iowa Senate that led to a million dollar settlement with the former communications director for Senate Republicans.

Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen of Des Moines raised the issue during her speech at the opening of the 2018 legislative session.

Janet Petersen

“The internal investigation that was conducted following the verdict revealed that many staffers are still afraid to report harassment at the Capitol and that is simply unacceptable,” Petersen said, “but it’s not surprising when the only person fired in this whole scandal was the victim.”

The senate’s Republican leader in November asked a retired senator who used to be a human resources manager for Wellmark Blue Cross Blue Shield to review the case and senate operating rules, but she has yet to make a public report. Petersen — the Democratic leader in the senate — today said retaliation against a whistle-blower is supposed to be grounds for termination under the existing senate handbook, but the rule is being ignored.

“There is a reckoning in our country on the issue of harassment in the workplace,” Petersen says. “The Iowa Senate has a choice: Do something serious and address this problem or be on the wrong side of history. The Iowa Senate can longer be a sanctuary for predatory behavior.”

Petersen and the Democratic floor leader in the Iowa House both used their “opening day” speeches at the statehouse to lambast Republicans on a variety of fronts. House Minority Leader Mark Smith of Marshalltown said legislators’ first priority is to restore “fiscal order.”

“The gross mismanagement of the state budget has been on display consistently since we adjourned last year,” Smith said. “In just a few short years, the state budget has gone to a $900 million surplus to a…deficit last year.”

Smith criticized Republicans to cutting state support of public universities and community colleges and questioned whether Republicans will invite Democrats to develop bipartisan proposals on key issues.

“Our involvement should and must be from the beginning,” Smith said. “…It is time for us to tackle the challenges we face today, together.”

Iowa Republicans gathered for a fundraising breakfast three hours before the 2018 legislative session began, emphasizing their goal of passing income tax cuts this year. GOP leaders also delivered opening day speeches after the House and Senate officially opened for business at 10 a.m. today.

Opening Day speeches:

AUDIO of House Speaker Linda Upmeyer (R-Clear Lake), 6:00

AUDIO of House Majority Leader Chris Hagenow (R-Windsor Heights), 4:00

AUDIO of House Minority Leader Mark Smith (D-Marshalltown), 11:00

AUDIO of Senate President Jack Whitver (R-Ankeny), 5:00

AUDIO of Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix (R-Shall Rock), 7:00

AUDIO of Senate Minority Leader Janet Petersen (D-Des Moines), 17:00