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VOL. 39 | NO. 50 | Friday, December 11, 2015

GOP: Lawmaker investigation highlights need for ethics

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NASHVILLE (AP) — Republican leaders in Tennessee aren't exactly rallying to the side of a state lawmaker prosecutors wanted to charge with prescription fraud.

A drug task force investigation into state House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham released to the public on Wednesday ended in a grand jury not indicting the Franklin Republican.

But top Republican officials on Thursday called it a serious matter that highlights the need to strive for ethical behavior in the General Assembly.

"Any allegation of illegal activity against an elected official is always a serious matter," state Republican Party Chairman Ryan Haynes said in an email. "Republicans have led the way in cleaning up the Legislature and voters expect that to continue."

House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, noted that while she has not reviewed the task force investigation, "I in no way defend any unlawful activity by a member, and take it very seriously."

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters after a higher education meeting that the courts, fellow legislative colleagues and voters will decide over the matter. But he noted that Republicans "as a party want to have a commitment to the highest ethical standards."

While Haslam said he can't speak to the specifics of Durham's case, "prescription drug abuse is a big issue in Tennessee."

Prosecutors sought charges against Durham last year after investigators alleged that he falsified the date on two prescriptions and tried to fill them at a supermarket pharmacy. The records redact the name of the medication involved, though Durham said the prescriptions were for Adderall. The stimulant is used primarily to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and sleep disorders.

Durham said in a text message that the case is closed.

"The Williamson County grand jury vetted this case two years ago and were obviously satisfied that nothing unlawful occurred," he said. "While I have great respect for Speaker Harwell, I'm not sure what else they wish to investigate. We have a judicial process and it was followed."

But some House leaders are calling for a more complete account of what happened.

"I'm confident that Representative Durham will give a public report to clear up any outstanding questions about this matter without delay," House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said in a statement.

"It is always troubling when there is a recommendation to indict a member of the Tennessee General Assembly," he said. "But it is important to remember that the grand jury chose not to return an indictment in this matter."

One fellow lawmaker did say he considers the matter completed.

"In this situation, the grand jury decided there was no action to be taken," said House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, who also represents Franklin. "Therefore, I consider this a closed matter."

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