Speaker: Commitee To Review Harassment Policy

Posted at 10:14 PM, Jan 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-01-25 23:32:13-05
With the latest accusations against Rep. Jeremy Durham (R, Franklin), Democrats have called for the Republican House leadership to step down.

During a closed door meeting on the first day of the session Republicans kept Rep. Durham as Majority Whip, despite a prescription drug fraud investigation and public outcry when Durham asked a judge for leniency for a pastor caught with child porn.

But just two weeks later new accusations come from the Tennessean, which reported that three women who work on and around Capitol Hill say they were sexually harassed by Durham. Over the weekend Durham stepped down from his leadership position as Majority Whip. But he stopped short from resigning from the Legislature, despite party member pleas.

"I do think it is important that representative Durham step down from his position as a member of this body," said GOP Party Chairman Ryan Haynes Monday.

When asked if Durham should resign Speaker Harwell said "if the rumors I continue to hear regarding Rrepresentative Durham are true, Representative Durham needs to focus on his family and receive the help that he needs."

The article reported that the women received sexually harassing messages from the Representative, including late night requests for pictures.

And the rumors about the misconduct may have been swirling for months.

"We learned this weekend that all three of them, Speaker Harwell, Leader McCormick and Chairman Casada knew the substance of Durham's inappropriate behavior at least one week in advance of the caucus vote, and likely much earlier," said Democratic Party Chair Mary Mancini.

Mancini is calling for those members of the Republican leadership to resign.

"Republican House leaders did nothing to protect women from further harm," Mancini said.

But Speaker Harwell says no woman ever filed a formal complaint. She says the sexual harassment policy on the Hill was followed.

"There have been legitimate criticism of that policy, and it is after all 19 years old," Harwell said.

Monday The Speaker announced an independent committee to review the current sexual harassment policy. Members include Lipscomb Associate Dean Allison Duke, attorney Dianne Neal, public policy expert Frank Gibson as well as the legislature's attorney and administration director.

Republican leaders think the committee will help restore credibility.

"We know that she (Harwell) back in November asked the personnel director to talk to Representative Durham on appropriate behavior," Mancini said Monday, saying House leaders were involved in a cover up of the allegations.

"We did not know," Casada said,"there was no cover up, no hiding, nothing."

Speaker Harwell also announced that interns are no longer to attend receptions or parties or give their phone number to lawmakers. She said all members of the House will go through sexual harassment training once the committee finishes its review.