Tenn. Senate leader says harassment not the norm

Multiple female lobbyists told investigators that State Rep. Jeremy Durham's reputation for making sexually suggestive overtures to women was well-known among lobbyists at the Tennessee statehouse. Committee Chairman Rep. Steve McDaniel said the group opted against trying to convene a special session of the legislature to oust Durham.

"It's in the best interests of our community and him personally that Rep. Durham resign from his position and allow for the healing that needs to take place", Moore said in an emailed statement.

According to excerpts read aloud by Democratic women at a news conference, one former political worker told investigators that when she was 20, Durham plied her with a cooler full of beer and then had sex with her in his office.

Investigators from the Attorney General's office say 22 women told them Durham had experiences that might be considered sexual harassment.

Harwell didn't immediately respond Thursday, but has said the voters should decide Durham's fate.

"The investigation revealed that legislative staff members and interns rely on their relations with legislators for employment and references for future employment opportunities at the Capitol", the report states. He also criticized the fact that all the witnesses in the report were given Jane Doe and John Doe pseudonyms to protect their anonymity.

Others including House Speaker Beth Harwell - who isn't identified in the report but acknowledges she heard enough about Durham's behavior to be concerned - say their hands were tied because no woman was willing to file a formal complaint against Durham.

Durham said that a handful of the anecdotes in the report were true but said his intentions were harmless. She adds he ought to make it absolutely clear that he is not seeking re-election.

Late Wednesday afternoon, an attorney for Durham issued a statement that blasted the report, but didn't specifically refute any of the findings.

"I respect his decision and will trust that his priorities will now be focused where they need to be, on his family and his health", he said.

The proposed policy suggests more transparency - including public reports of transgressions by lawmakers and other employees - along with mandatory reporting.

Harwell said if Durham did win re-election, he would still be banned from having an office at the legislature, and he would still have limits on staffers with whom he could interact. Female lobbyists said they feared they would lose votes for the bills they were championing, according to the report. "I fault them for that".

In the wake of a Tennessean investigation published in January that found three women who received inappropriate late night text messages from Durham's cellphone, Durham resigned his leadership position but vowed to remain in the House of Representatives. Though they conceded Durham's behavior was extreme, they also said they were fearful of retaliation if they spoke up about it. Instead, they say they advised one another to avoid being alone with him - or avoided seeing him entirely.

"As elected officials we are held to a higher standard and unfortunately I believe this report renders Rep. Durham unable to effectively represent the people of Franklin and Williamson County. Speaker Harwell made sure I was tried in the court of public opinion".

The state's overall investigation into Durham took five months, involved hundreds of hours of staff participation and featured countless interviews with witnesses and victims.

Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey are set to discuss the proposed new policy Thursday.

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