House Speaker Beth Harwell indicated Wednesday that there will be an effort to expel embattled Rep. Jeremy Durham when the legislature reconvenes in a special session next week.
“Expulsion motions are procedural in nature, so it is permitted regardless of the call," Harwell told The Tennessean via email. "There will be a motion and a vote on expulsion, and I welcome the opportunity to vote for it."
The announcement is the strongest indicator in months that Durham could be expelled from the legislature in the wake of investigations by The Tennessean and state attorney general related to his inappropriate sexual conduct. But Peter Strianse, a Nashville criminal defense attorney representing Durham in relation to an ongoing federal investigation, disagreed that an ouster motion against Durham during this specific special session would be legal.
"Article III, section 9, of the Tennessee Constitution precludes the legislature from conducting any 'legislative business except that for which they were specifically called together.' Any motion to oust Representative Durham would be beyond the scope of the proposed special session and, thus, unconstitutional," Strianse said Wednesday afternoon.
On Friday, Haslam called for a special session to undo a DUI law that threatened to prevent Tennessee from receiving $60 million in federal highway funding.
Haslam said it was up to lawmakers on whether to include expelling Durham, who is accused of inappropriate sexual contact with at least 22 women, in discussion of the special session.
Unless lawmakers remove Durham, he is set to receive a lifetime pension that would annually give him $4,130. Harwell said an expulsion vote is procedural and therefore doesn't need to be included in the official call for a special session.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said Wednesday he's still holding out hope both Durham and Rep. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, will resign before the start of the special session. Harwell made no mention of expelling Armstrong, who was recently convicted of a felony in a federal tax case, but McCormick said he believes there would be enough legislative support to remove both lawmakers.
"I'm not sure how you go home and explain to your constituents why you have a criminal and a sexual predator in the legislature," McCormick said, speaking to whether lawmakers would vote for the lawmakers' removal.
Previous attempts to garner support to oust both Durham and Armstrong failed.
McCormick said he hopes neither Durham nor Armstrong attend the special session, saying not showing up would be what a "rational person" would do. However, both are still entitled to vote on any measures that would come up during the session if they do attend, said House Clerk Joe McCord.
"If they are present, as members of the House of Representatives of the 109th General Assembly, they are entitled to vote," McCord said.
Kara Owen, a spokeswoman for Harwell, said the expulsion would only require a House vote. It would take two-thirds, or 66 of the 99 House members to expel either Durham or Armstrong.
Only one lawmaker has been expelled from the legislature in Tennessee since the Civil War.
The legislature will reconvene on Monday at 2 p.m.
It is unclear when the ouster vote would take place.