Lawmaker's Resignation Restarts Debate Over Sexual Harassment At The Tennessee State Capitol | Nashville Public Radio

Lawmaker's Resignation Restarts Debate Over Sexual Harassment At The Tennessee State Capitol

Feb 14, 2017

A Memphis-area lawmakers' sudden resignation has reignited a debate over sexual harassment at the Tennessee legislature.

First-term Representative Mark Lovell stepped down Tuesday, following an allegation he'd touched a woman inappropriately.

Lovell, R-Eads, started work in the state legislature just last month, and in his resignation letter, he cites a need to devote more time to his family and his business as his reason for leaving. Lovell denies any wrongdoing.

House Republican Caucus Chairman Ryan Williams says the episode's quick resolution shows sexual harassment claims are being taken seriously.

"If there were something, and by his own comments to the press, I assume there may have been, it proves that the process works," says the Cookeville lawmaker.

That process was put in place last year, amid the long fight to oust state Rep. Jeremy Durham. The Franklin Republican was accused of sexually harassing dozens of women over the course of several years.

An investigation into Durham's behavior turned up questionable conduct on the part of other lawmakers. But only Durham was publicly identified and punished.

Nashville Democrats Sherry Jones, Bo Mitchell and Mike Stewart called for an independent investigator to probe claims of sexual harassment at the state legislature.
Credit Chas Sisk / WPLN

House Democrats say that was a big mistake. State Rep. Bo Mitchell, D-Nashville, is calling for a more thorough inquiry into both cases — and consequences.

"All of these allegations need to be addressed, or we're going to be coming back here doing this over and over and over again," he says.

Mitchell says an independent prosecutor should be appointed. But House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, says the legislature no longer has jurisdiction over the matter. That means there won't be an investigation.

And the courts aren't likely to get the case, either, say Democrats. That's because state legislators passed a law last year that makes accusers pay public officials' legal costs if they file civil claims against them and fail — possibly tens of thousands of dollars.

Democrats are pushing to repeal that law.