by Michael Orbach (The Jewish Star)
Issue of July 3, 2009 / 11 Tammuz 5769
In the latest twist over child sex abuse legislation, the New York State Assembly will meet in special session in September to vote on a controversial bill that was never brought to the floor.
The bill, dubbed the Child Victims Act by its sponsor, Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Queens), would extend the criminal and civil statutes for child sexual abuse cases as well as open up a year-long window for cases currently beyond the statute. With both houses being controlled by Democrats, activists had high hopes for the bill’s passing this year.
According to Mike Armstrong, a spokesperson for Markey, the bill not being brought to the floor was to be expected, given the turmoil in the New York State Senate. Most importantly, Armstrong maintained, the bill has enough votes in the Assembly to pass.
“The Speaker has assured her [Markey] that he wants the bill to become law and he’s committed to it being brought to the floor,” Armstrong said. “When you dodge the bullet at one moment, you can regard it as a victory,”
The adjournment led to claims of victory from opponents of the bill, who include organizations as diverse as the Catholic Conference and the United Talmudic Academy of Williamsburg. Assemblyman Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) emerged as the most prominent opponent of the legislation by sponsoring a competing bill that does not include the year-long window.
Lopez argues that his bill, which also did not make it to the Assembly floor, has much broader support in the State Senate and Assembly.
“I have 66 sponsors in the Assembly, [Markey] has 42, which do you think should come to the floor? “ Lopez told The Jewish Star. “[The Markey Bill] has no chance of passing in the Senate.”
Supporters of the Markey bill offer a different take.
Marci Hamilton, a Yeshiva University Professor and author of “Justice Denied: What America Must Do To Protect its Children,” described any victory as purely superficial.
“The problem is that the Catholic Conference is so good at manipulating the message that our ragtag army has to catch up,” she said. “We’re moving in the right direction. Not as fast as we’d like, but we’re getting there.”
Both sides have recently ratcheted up their efforts. A group of survivors of sexual abuse gathered outside of Assemblyman Lopez’s office in almost daily vigils to protest his sponsorship of the competing bill; last Wednesdays, survivors clashed with Lopez’s supporters, who pelted them with loose change, according to one of the attendees.
Survivors for Justice, a collection of Jewish victims of sexual abuse and their advocates has been running 30-second radio advertisements in favor of the bill. The latest featured Gershon Silver, the grandson of Rabbi Eliezer Silver, one of the founders of Agudath Israel of America, who asked listeners to “heed the words of my saintly grandfather,” and support the legislation.
Lonnie Soury, a spokesperson for Survivors for Justice, believes that the Markey bill is far from dead.
“It’s shameful the amount of effort the church and some rabbinical authorities put into defeating this bill,” she asserted. “They put a big effort in but they haven’t killed it.”