ALBANY The state Assembly has entered into two contracts worth $205,000 in taxpayer money to hire an outside firm to handle sexual-harassment cases in the chamber.
Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said Tuesday that his office has approved the contracts "related to sexual harassment policy development and investigations" with Rossein Associates.
The contracts are part of reforms Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, announced last May amid a series of high-profile, sexual-harassment cases in the Democratic-led Assembly, in particular the troubled handling of cases involving former Assemblyman Vito Lopez, D-Brooklyn.
"The ethics committee has retained a firm in order to have independent investigations, number one, of any complaints." Silver told reporters Tuesday, "number two, to have independent reporting to non-Assembly employees for anybody who feels that they have been the victim of harassment."
According to state records, $140,017 has already been spent since the firm started its work last fall.
The firm is also developing a new sexual-harassment policy for the Assembly, which has had three Democratic lawmakers accused of harassment over the past year and a half.
Silver wouldn't be a timeframe on when the regulations would be completed.
"It's a complex issue, and I think they want to do it right," he said.
The firm is run by Merrick Rossein, a law professor at the City University of New York who specializes in sexual-harassment cases. The Times Union reported in December that he had been brought on to investigate complaints against Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak, D-Cheektowaga, Erie County. Gabryszak resigned last month.
Silver said Rossein was hired by the Assembly Ethics Committee. Rossein could not be immediately reached for comment.
The contract is the latest in public money used to deal with sexual-harassment complaints in the Assembly. Two of Lopez's accusers reached a settlement with the state in 2012 for $103,000.