Bill to arm Tennessee teachers remains up in the air as sponsor faces sexual misconduct allegations

The lawmaker behind a high-profile bill to arm Tennessee teachers with handguns is being urged to resign over allegations of sexual misconduct, calling into question the future of his legislation.

Rep. David Byrd postponed his bill on Tuesday in a House committee. He said he wanted to see what recommendations come out of Gov. Bill Haslam’s task force on school safety, scheduled to be released on Wednesday

But later Tuesday, Speaker Beth Harwell asked for Byrd’s resignation based on a story by Nashville television station WSMV. The station reported that three women have accused the Waynesboro Republican of inappropriate sexual conduct while they were teenagers on the high school basketball team he coached more than 30 years ago.

Byrd, who also served as principal of Wayne County High School for eight years, said Wednesday he has no plans to step down.

“I do not condone sexually inappropriate behavior and hope that my behavior over the last 30 years bears that out,” he said in a statement. “… I will have nothing further to say on the matter, and I hope to get back to the business of representing [my constituents.]”

His bill, which picked up steam in February after a shooter killed 17 people at a Florida high school, sailed through its first two legislatives hurdles and was scheduled for a vote in the House Education Administration and Planning Committee. But before the TV report aired, Byrd asked for a one-week delay.

In addition to citing Haslam’s task force, Byrd told Chalkbeat he wanted to discuss the measure first with Committee Chairman Harry Brooks.

Brooks confirmed that he was scheduled to talk with Byrd about his bill on Wednesday. Asked if the measure was in jeopardy due to the allegations against Byrd, the chairman said he was unsure. “I just don’t know where it will wind up,” Brooks said Tuesday night.

The bill has amassed more than 45 co-sponsors in the 99-member House, even as the governor, Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, the state teachers union, and the Tennessee Sheriff’s Association oppose it in favor of other security measures. The proposal would allow school districts to adopt policies that let select staff voluntarily carry a concealed firearm on school property.

Haslam is asking lawmakers for an additional $30 million to spend on school safety based on recommendations from his task force. Those measures are expected to include investments in campus technology, school resource officers for distressed counties that don’t already have them, and in-school mental health resources for students.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include a statement Wednesday from Rep. Byrd.