ALBANY, N.Y. – Acknowledging that serious mistakes were made in the New York State Assembly's handling of the sexual harassment accusations against former member Vito Lopez, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver announced a series of reforms Monday.
Incidents will no longer be considered on a case by case basis, the reforms creating clear and mandatory pathways to handle any sexual harassment complaints.
Three major points of the reform include appointing an outside investigator, mandatory reporting of sexual harassment complaints, and banning confidential settlements.
A budget will be provided to establish an independent investigator, independent of the Assembly Majority central staff and the Speaker, to handle complaints from inception and throughout the process.
Any supervisory staff or member of the Assembly who is informed by another employee, verbally or in writing, that she or he is being harassed will now have a mandatory duty to report it to the independent investigator. Failure to report will be subject to immediate sanction.
Silver also announced that he will introduce - and the Assembly will soon take up - legislation to ban the use of confidential settlements by any government agency, including both houses of the Legislature, the Executive branch and all state public authorities. In addition, Assembly policies will be changed to prohibit the Assembly from entering into any such settlements.
"We have worked hard to strengthen our policies concerning sexual harassment and to create a safe working environment, but while we fully thought we were acting in the interests of the victims and their desire for confidentiality, our errors in judgment resulted in the opposite effect," said Silver. "The strongest changes we can make will prevent future errors in judgment by creating an independent investigator to handle such cases and requiring mandated reporting, ensuring that any future allegation is quickly and fully investigated."
The policy changes will be effective immediately and the legislation, which Speaker Silver will sponsor, will be voted on as soon as possible.