Harwell moves to revise House handling of sexual harassment charges

House Speaker Beth Harwell says she will propose changes in operations of the House Ethics Committee and move on her own to disclose the number of alleged violations of the legislature’s sexual harassment policy, reports The Tennessean.  Both moves are tied to controversy surrounding former Rep. Jeremy Durham, who was expelled from the House in September.

Right now, the House Ethics Committee can’t receive any complaints related to sexual harassment. Harwell will suggest changing the policy when lawmakers return for session in 2017.

“In January, I will propose a rule change to the House Rules Committee whereby sexual harassment violations will be heard by the Ethics Committee, while protecting the confidentiality of complainants. The Ethics Committee will be able to recommend action to the entire House. This is appropriate given that the state constitution only allows the House as a whole to discipline members,” Harwell said in a statement emailed by a spokesman.

… Harwell had to create a special committee that relied on the attorney general to investigate the allegations of sexual impropriety by Durham.

Harwell noted that the House Rules Committee and the entire body must approve of any rules change.

…Until Friday, the legislature had also refused to release the raw numbers of violations or complaints filed under the policy. After repeated questions, Harwell said Friday she will change the policy. (Note: She can change a policy – as opposed to a rule – on her own as House speaker.)

“In addition, I will be implementing a House policy change whereby the number of violations of the Workplace Discrimination and Harassment Policy are reported annually,” Harwell said in the statement.

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