Tennessee House speaker orders 'active shooter,' harassment training for staff

House Speaker Beth Harwell, a Republican candidate for Tennessee governor, speaks at a fundraiser in Franklin, Tenn., on Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017. With the field largely set, some of the candidates have begun taking aim at each other in public appearances. (AP Photo/Erik Schelzig)

NASHVILLE - Tennessee House Speaker Beth Harwell has directed House staffers to attend mandatory classes on how to survive an "active shooter" incident and how not to commit sexual harassment.

The active-shooter training comes as legislative workers prepare to settle into their new Cordell Hull Building home, where handgun-carry permit holders will be allowed to go armed.

Some legislative staffers described to the Times Free Press how they got an email last week ordering them to attend in-person training on active-shooter response.

Kara Owen, spokeswoman for the Republican speaker, said Monday the Tennessee Highway Patrol offered to conduct the sudden-violence class.

"It is comprehensive in nature and is unrelated to allowing state-licensed carry permit holders to carry in Cordell Hull," Owen said.

She said "in light of recent incidents," outside Tennessee, "Speaker Harwell wants staff to be prepared. She does feel that Cordell Hull will be very secure."

The state Senate has no plans to implement similar in-person training. Adam Kleinheider, spokesman for Senate Speaker Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said an existing online class is sufficient.

"It is a House-only initiative," Kleinheider said in an email. "Joint staff and Senate staff are not included. During the last year, all legislative employees have had the Office of Homeland Security's on-line, on-demand training opportunity 'Sudden Violence - Surviving an Active Shooter' made available to them."

"The Senate is confident our employees are safe and secure in Cordell Hull," Kleinheider added.

Harwell also has told House staffers she invited the YWCA to lead sexual harassment training, which also is already being done online.

"This is mandatory for House staff," Harwell said in the email.

The House has witnessed two sexual harassment scandals in the last two years.

Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, was expelled by fellow representatives in September 2016 over harassment allegations leveled by a number of female staffers and lobbyists.

And Rep. Mark Lovell, a suburban Memphis Republican, quit weeks after he was elected following charges of sexual harassment.

"The YWCA is widely regarded and recognized for their expertise and insight into sexual harassment, and I'm pleased for our House staff to have the opportunity to learn from them," Harwell told House staffers in her email.

"In addition," Harwell said, "this will be another opportunity for staff to review our Workplace Discrimination Policy and to learn about appropriate behavior in the workplace. There is no place for sexual harassment in Tennessee."

Kleinheider said the YWCA training also is House-only.

"Senate and Joint employees are not included. The Senate believes in the mandatory video training instituted last year and plans to continue it," he said.

Allegations of sexual harassment by powerful figures in politics, Hollywood and national news media has exploded in recent weeks.

Eight adult women in Alabama have stepped forward publicly to accuse Republican U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of having engaged in questionable behavior or to allege sexual assault when they were teenagers.

Two women alleged Al Franken, now a Democratic senator from Minnesota, groped them, and on Monday, popular TV talk show host Charlie Rose was suspended after multiple allegations of sexual harassment became public.

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @andysher1.