The Remarks of Speaker Sheldon Silver

Reforms to Assembly Policies Concerning Sexual Harassment

Capitol, Speaker's Conference Room
Monday, May 20, 2013 [4:30 pm]

I have just come from Democratic Conference where we had an open and frank discussion of the JCOPE report, our mishandling of the original sexual harassment complaints, and how we should move forward from here.

Standing here with me are Members of the Assembly Majority some of whom are part of a bipartisan working group I established several weeks ago – the Task Force on Sexual Harassment – which is charged with seeking outside professional counsel to assist in making recommendations on how to improve Assembly sexual harassment policies going forward.

These recommendations will be made as soon as practicable, hopefully before the end of this legislative session. I have insisted that at a minimum they must include:

I will expand upon these policy changes in a moment.

I want New Yorkers to know that I care deeply about this institution and its employees, and that I remain dedicated to our core mission of protecting those who are most in need of a strong and caring government.

The degradation and emotional duress endured by the young women identified in the report, who were harassed while they served in the Assembly, weighs heavily on me.

When I became Speaker of the Assembly, I made regular sexual harassment training a requirement for every assembly member and every member of the staff.

I also made sure that a system would be in place to deal with such misconduct should it occur.

That I allowed this system to be bypassed in the first instance, even though I believed I was acting in good faith, was a failure on my part and now that we know the atrociousness of the misconduct, it only makes the failure more glaring.

I accept the criticism and deeply regret not referring the original complaint to the Assembly’s Ethics and Guidance Committee, and for this I am sorry.

Every member and employee of the Assembly, every employee of the State of New York and for that matter, every person who works in the State of New York has the right to go to work and be confident that harassment of any kind will not be tolerated.

They should be equally as confident that should such harassment occur, the situation will be remedied swiftly and the offender or offenders punished appropriately.

The responsibility for the mistakes that were made in the handling of the original complaints rests solely with me and it is my responsibility to ensure that those mistakes are never made again.

From this day forward, neither I as the Speaker, nor the Office of Majority Counsel, nor any member of my staff will have any involvement in ethics complaints made against Assembly Members or Assembly staff.

A budget will be provided to establish an independent investigator and/or counsel who will handle harassment complaints from inception to resolution. Said investigator and/or counsel will be independent of the Assembly Majority central staff and will not be appointed by – nor will they serve at the will of – the Speaker.

All complaints of harassment whether made orally or in writing to any Assembly Member or supervisory staff person must be referred to the independent counsel and investigator.

Second, we will make all Assembly Members and Assembly supervisory staff “mandatory reporters” of harassment complaints.

Any Member of the Assembly or any Assembly supervisory staff person who is told by an Assembly employee that they are being harassed, will have an automatic and mandatory duty to report it to the independent investigator, or face sanctions themselves.

Third, we are banning all confidential settlements by the Legislature, the Executive, state agencies and all public authorities when expending state funds.

I have broached these ideas with Minority Leader Kolb and the Task Force will begin to address this immediately.

Mistakes were made. I deeply regret them. It is my responsibility to ensure that all Assembly employees are safe and treated with respect, and to ensure that these mistakes never happen again.

While I wish stronger rules and stronger laws would deter predators, I am taking immediate action so that my colleagues, the employees of the Assembly, and the People of the State of New York, can trust that everything possible is being done to rectify this situation.