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Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is weathering criticism for his handling of recently-resigned Assemblyman Vito Lopez's harassment suit. In response, he's announced plans to create an independent investigator for sexual harassment complaints and mandatory reporting of them. Many are calling for the speaker's resignation, including one Assemblyman who threatened to leave the Democratic conference if he didn't step down. Silver has apologized for authorizing a secret settlement in Lopez's harassment suit, but says resignation is "ridiculous." The scandal may have weakened his bargaining power, but he has a strong grasp on power in the state. Gov. Cuomo has reportedly decided not to call a special election to replace Lopez to keep him from wielding influence over his successor. The governor also says the harassment scandal proves the need for passage of his women's agenda.

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The state Assembly voted yesterday for a 24-month moratorium on hydraulic fracturing, apparently emboldened by Gov. Andrew Cuomo's decision to hold off on allowing the natural gas drilling process in New York state.

In a statement defending the bill, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said a moratorium was necessary to allow for sufficient time to thoroughly study the issue. “We need to better understand the broad impacts to our environment, our economy, and the health and safety of all who work and live in New York before the Department of Environmental Conservation makes its decision," he said.

The Assembly bill also requires a health impact assessment to be carried out using a model recommended by the Centers for Disease Control.

Assemblyman Kevin Cahill of Ulster County lauded the move: “It became evident during our budget hearings that the review currently being done by the New York State Department of Health is inadequate for the protection of New Yorkers. This legislation will create New York-centered studies, taking into account our unique geology and water resources and also capitalize on the experience in other states.”

The Independent Oil and Gas Association and the Business Council both issued statements condemning the Assembly's action. “The proposed moratorium on future natural gas development in upstate New York is seriously ill-informed and ignores science and the experience in other states, and demonstrates continued disregard for farmers, landowners and small businesses in the Southern Tier,” said IOGA Executive Director Brad Gill.

But opponents of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, say the gas industry simply doesn’t have its heart in the fight because the market demand is not simply there.

“I think the industry is focusing on development in other places,” said Kate Sinding of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Gas prices are so low that there is just not so much pressure to get into the ground in New York. We are seeing frustration from landowners who are threatening lawsuits but not sure it is practical for the industry right now.”

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Republican Assemblyman Steve Katz is circulating a letter to his colleagues asking them not to reelect Assemblyman Sheldon Silver as Speaker, a position Silver has held since 1994.

"Mr. Silver’s actions in covering the sexual improprieties of Assemblyman Vito Lopez with taxpayer dollars by means of the 'Miscellaneous Contractual Services' account go against everything that we should be united against in a bipartisan manner," Katz writes. "While we may disagree on how to govern, the people of the state of New York deserve to have an open, honest, and transparent government."

Jimmy Vielkind of the Times Union recently documented how Silver and Assembly Democrats dodged any fallout from the Lopez scandal during the elections and actually added seats to their super-majority. It seems unlikely that Katz' effort will come to much but it keeps the scandal alive just a little bit longer. The matter is still reportedly being investigated by JCOPE.

Here is the full letter Katz is circulating among Assembly members:

To My Colleagues in the Assembly:

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