NASHVILLE, Tennessee – House Democrats launched an unsuccessful attempt to expel Representative David Byrd (R-Waynesboro) from the House of Representatives during the Extraordinary Session on August 23 to elect a new Speaker.
HR 7006, introduced by Representative Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville) on August 5 reads, “Expels David Byrd from his seat as a member of the House of Representatives of the One Hundred Eleventh General Assembly.”
Byrd has been accused of inappropriate sexual conduct with underage female student athletes 30 years ago when he was a high school basketball coach.
The allegations were made against Byrd prior to the 2018 elections, which Byrd won capturing 78 percent of the vote against his Democrat opponent.
Since the allegations were made public, protesters have been regular attendees at the legislative offices and committee rooms in the Cordell Hull Building, and even more present outside the chambers during floor sessions.
Protesters were present during and after the House Republican Caucus meeting held on August 22, the day prior to the Extraordinary Session.
A group, Enough is Enough, has repeatedly called for Byrd to be removed from the House, even to Governor Bill Lee who has no such constitutional authority.
Earlier this week, before being officially elected Speaker of the House, Cameron Sexton asked Tennessee’s Attorney General for an opinion on the matter, which was not available for the Extraordinary Session.
As HR 7006 came up on the agenda, Judiciary Committee Chair Michael Curcio (R-Dickson) came to the podium and said that, pending the opinion of the Attorney General, he moved that HR7006 be moved to the Judiciary Committee.
House Democratic Caucus Chair, Mike Stewart (D-Nashville) told Speaker Sexton which occurred earlier in the Extraordinary Session, that he doesn’t think the Attorney General’s opinion is needed.
For about a minute and a half, Stewart insisted in various ways that he doesn’t think they need to delay any further, use delay tactics or to refer. He said the facts are before them and they need to proceed and move forward with the issue.
Stewart said that he was aware that apart from the resolution, a member was going to make a motion to expel Byrd.
Curcio said he couldn’t agree more that these are very serious allegations and that, outside of the call for the session, the resolution would need to be referred to Judiciary Committee.
Stewart said he didn’t understand why the resolution was being sent back to Judiciary Committee, when the motion to expel is not out of order and could resolve the issue that day.
He also said that there is nothing in the pending opinion by the Attorney General that would change their rights under the constitution or be germane under their decision making process.
Stewart was glad to hear that referring the resolution to Judiciary Committee would not prevent a motion by Representative Johnson from the floor during the session to expel Byrd.
Assistant Chief Clerk/Parliamentarian Daniel Hicks explained, at the request of Speaker Sexton, “Items filed that are not congratulatory or memorializing go through, once introduced, go through the committee system. If passed by the subcommittee, full committee and there’s no fiscal concerns, and it goes through Finance and then it is calendared by Calendar and Rules. That has not happened with this resolution. There’s been a lot of questions about why it was not on a calendar for today, and that is the reason.”
Curcio explained further to Stewart that part of the reason the resolution is being referred to Judiciary Committee is to have the discussions and due process, in the open and on record. He agreed that a delay tactic would be inappropriate and completely out of order.
Curcio read the resolution which called for Byrd to be expelled for “disorderly behavior,” which Curcio said sounds much less serious than what we’re talking about here. He wants to ensure that the Judiciary Committee has the opportunity to hear the accusations and do a full investigation.
Stewart asked if Curcio agreed with him that a motion to expel from the House floor during the Extraordinary Session is valid, which Curcio said is correct.
Stewart said that due process requires the person at whom this is directed to come forward and give testimony, but that hasn’t happened. As such, he would say that the opportunity for due process has existed but has been rejected or forfeited.
Curcio reminded the state of Tennessee and the body that, if the resolution goes to Judiciary Committee, subpoenas could be issued to ensure those folks come forward for due process.
Representative Johnson said she thinks it important that the question to the AG doesn’t include what happened during session, only what happened before and is not all encompassing. Therefore, Johnson said it should move forward today.
Representatives John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville) and Bo Mitchell (D-Nashville) also pushed for action to be taken that day.
Representative Jason Powell (D-Nashville) confirmed with Curcio that the accused and the victims will be put under oath and will give testify in a public setting.
A vote to refer HR 7006 to the House Judiciary Committee was put on the board, resulting in 71 Ayes and 26 Nays.
Voting Nay were Representatives Charlie Baum (R-Murfreesboro), Bill Beck (D-Nashville), Karen Camper (D-Memphis), Jesse Chism (D-Memphis), John Ray Clemmons (D-Nashville), Barbara Cooper (D-Memphis), John DeBerry (D-Memphis), Vincent Dixie (D-Nashville), Bob Freeman (D-Nashville), Yusuf Hakeem (D-Memphis), Jason Hodges (D-Clarksville), Darren Jernigan (D-Nashville), Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville), London Lamar (D-Memphis), Harold Love (D-Nashville), Larry Miller (D-Memphis), Bo Mitchell (D-Nashville), Brandon Ogles (R-Franklin), Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis), Jason Potts (D-Nashville), Jason Powell (D-Nashville), Rick Staples (D-Knoxville), Mike Stewart (D-Nashville), Dwayne Thompson (D-Cordova), Joe Towns (D-Memphis), John Mark Windle (D-Livingston).
About 15 minutes later, Representative Johnson moved, “Pursuant to Article II, Section 12 of the Constitution of the State of Tennessee, I move that Representative David Byrd of the 71st Representative District be expelled from his seat as a member of the House of Representatives of the 111th General Assembly of the State of Tennessee for improper behaviors. Specifically, assaulting underage students while serving as a trusted authority figure and continuing the crime through a cover-up that took place while he served in the legislature.”
Curcio responded again, saying the allegations are very serious and he committed to get to the bottom of it through the Judiciary Committee and referenced the issue to the Judiciary Committee.
There was objection, so the vote was put on the board. Once again, there were 71 Ayes, but 25 Nays and 1 Present Not Voting. Representative Barbara Cooper’s vote changed from Nay to Present Not Voting.
Byrd sat at his desk in the chambers throughout the discussion, although left shortly before adjournment. The chants from the protesters outside the chambers got louder near the end of the session, likely in response to Byrd leaving the chambers.
Meanwhile, there was no mention of the accusations against Democrat Representative Rick Staples, who allegedly committed sexual harassment while being an elected Representative and in his office at the Cordell Hull Building.
The House Judiciary Committee is expected to take up the matter when the regular session begins in January 2020.
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