A Middle Tennessee lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct in the 1980s has been removed from his chairmanship.
State Rep. David Byrd, R-Waynesboro, is stepping down as the leader of the House Education Administration Subcommittee, a post he was given earlier this year despite allegations that he engaged in intimate contact with three girls that he coached in basketball.
House Speaker Glen Casada said Thursday he made his decision based on feedback received from members.
He had been one of Byrd's strongest backers, supporting the Republican lawmaker's re-election bid after the allegations were reported by WSMV, a Nashville TV station. Casada had been criticized for elevating Byrd to a subcommittee chairmanship.
He said he doesn't regret that decision, but his thinking changed after he received a letter from members of the House Ethics Committee signed by members of both parties questioning Byrd's leadership.
"David served this House well. He managed his bills well. These allegations allegedly happened 35 years ago," Casada said. "But no individual can be disruptive to the process and it was close to that level."
Casada's office declined to release the letter, which it described as private. Byrd declined to comment.
Democrats: Byrd 'violated his protection agreement'
House Democrats have been asking for Byrd's removal since he was named chairman earlier this year. On Thursday, members of the Democratic Caucus questioned Casada's motives for removing Byrd.
The decision came a day after Byrd broke ranks with Republicans and voted against Gov. Bill Lee’s school voucher proposal, a measure supported by the House speaker. Casada said his decision doesn’t have anything to do with Byrd’s vote, but Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, claimed it "violated his protection agreement."
"Months and months of sexual assault victims coming up here pleading didn't make the case," Mitchell said. "But within 24 hours after voting against that voucher bill he's no longer chairman. I think it speaks for itself."
In a statement issued Thursday, Enough is Enough Tennessee called Byrd's removal "a good first step." The group was organized last year to campaign against Byrd and has been mobilizing people to protest him in committee meetings.
"Glen Casada and Gov. Lee should follow the lead of (former House Speaker) Beth Harwell and (Senate Speaker) Randy McNally and call for Byrd to resign immediately," said the group's leader Emily Tseffos. "David Byrd should not be in any position of power, period."