Assemblywoman Amends Child Sex Abuse Bill

By Bart Jones (Newsday.com)
June 4, 2009

A state assemblywoman has amended her child sex abuse victims bill to include public as well as private institutions, addressing one of the main arguments of the Catholic Church that the measure discriminated against it.

But the amendments did not quell the complaints of opponents, and brought on some new ones - the public schools.

Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Maspeth), who told Newsday as recently as Tuesday she was not amending the bill, said Thursday she would do so in response to concerns from colleagues.

She said the bill would now drop a 90-day "notice of claim" requirement for people suing public institutions. In effect, that could open the door for alleged child sex abuse victims to sue public schools.

The bill calls for an "open window" which would drop the statute of limitations for child sex abuse cases for one year. However, Markey said she is also modifying that, and that the bill would apply only to people 53 years old or younger.

The Catholic Church has argued the bill could "bankrupt" the church because of large numbers of people filing civil lawsuits against it. It also argued the bill was discriminatory because it excluded public institutions.

Robert Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, which represents about 700 superintendents, said Thursday his group will oppose the amended bill. "Statute of limitations exist for a reason," he said. "With the passage of time it becomes more difficult to ascertain what happened."

Sean Dolan, a spokesman for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, said the diocese remains opposed to the Markey bill. "Opening a 'window' for the institution of time-barred suits is unjust and unfair, would be financially devastating, and does nothing to protect a single child in New York State from abuse," he said.

Richard Barnes, executive director of the New York State Catholic Conference, echoed Dolan's comments, calling the bill "terrible public policy."

Victims advocate Timothy Echausse said he would be pleased if the amended bill passes, although "it is bittersweet as some of our older victims will now be excluded from the law" because of the new age limit. "They have worked as hard if not harder than all of us to finally get us our day in court."

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