Draft petition would call special session Aug. 15

House Republican leaders are circulating a petition that would call a special session of the Legislature to expel Republican Rep. Jeremy Durham of Franklin and perhaps Democratic Rep. Joe Armstrong of Knoxville as well, reports The Tennessean.

House Speaker Beth Harwell, House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick and House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada began circulating a formal petition empowering “the House of Representatives to consider and act upon a resolution to expel Jeremy Durham from his seat…” Two-thirds of the members of both chambers — 66 in the House and 22 in the Senate — are needed to convene the session at noon on August 15.

The action — the first concrete measure top Republican leaders have taken to get rid of Durham since he suspended his re-election campaign amid allegations of sexual harassment — could also pave the way for the removal of Armstrong, who was indicted last year on federal felony fraud and tax evasion charges.

“I spoke to the Speaker today and the call’s going to be for a special session and the purpose will be not only Jeremy Durham but Joe Armstrong,” Casada said Friday.

“We’ll take one at a time.There will be a resolution for both of them and the charges will be made and they can defend themselves. And that’s how it’ll go down.”

The petition, however, thus far contains no reference to Armstrong (whose trial on federal fraud and tax evasion charges is scheduled to begin Aug. 2).

…House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart said the inclusion of Armstrong is an effort by Republicans to avoid their duty.

“Casada and McCormick in the past have recognized that Armstrong is innocent until proven guilty and any effort to bring Armstrong into this before trial is the latest effort to avoid responsibility for Durham,” he said.

Duplicate petitions for the special session will be in the three House Republican leaders’ offices for lawmakers to sign, Casada said. The signature collection process is not expected to begin in the senate until after the House gets enough support.

As of Friday morning, Casada said he believes enough lawmakers will support the special session.

“I’ve talked to a handful of members and it’s been unanimous on those handful that I’ve talked to that they will come in and sign and call for it. So we’ll see,” Casada said.