N.Y. Senate Democrats to push bill to help child sex abuse victims seek justice against predators, public institutions

By Kenneth Lovett (NY Daily News)
April 10, 2016

ALBANY — State Senate Democrats are introducing a bill that would not only eliminate the time limits for child sex abuse victims to bring criminal or civil cases, but also make it easier for them to sue public institutions like schools, the Daily News has learned.

Sponsored by Senate Democratic Minority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins and Sen. Brad Hoylman, the bill would be the most comprehensive in the Legislature in making it easier for victims and law enforcement to go after predators.

"This is a crucial step to ensuring that all victims of child sex abuse get their day in court and that the predators at fault are held criminally and civilly responsible," said Stewart-Cousins (D-Yonkers). "We must protect victims no matter where or when the heinous crime took place."

The legislation borrows components from several bills that are already out there to address the issue.

But it also goes further by doing away with a requirement that kids abused at public institutions like schools or the foster care system file an intent to sue the government entity within 90 days of the incident occurring.

The Catholic Church has argued the 90-day requirement is unfair since current law gives an adult who was abused as a child up to the age of 23 to bring a lawsuit against religious organizations, the Boy Scouts and other private and non-profit institutions.

The Senate Democratic bill would do away with the time limit for adults abused as children to bring civil lawsuits as well as existing timeframes to bring criminal cases against child predators.

And it would open a window to give those who can no longer sue under current law a year to bring a lawsuit.

"No issue has greater urgency than providing justice to survivors of child sexual abuse and exposing the perpetrators of these abominable crimes by lifting New York's obsolete statute of limitations in both criminal and civil cases," Hoylman (D-Manhattan) said.

He has been the prime sponsor of a separate piece of legislation with Assemblywoman Margaret Markey that would eliminate the statute of limitations for a child sex abuse victim to bring a lawsuit as an adult while also including the one-year window for past victims to sue. But that bill does not treat public entities the same way.

Hoylman said his new omnibus bill with Stewart-Cousins "creates a single standard for both private and public institutions and will help child sexual abuse survivors achieve their day in court."

The bill, like those before it, faces a tough road, especially since it is being introduced by the Democratic minority that has little control over what legislation makes it to the Senate floor for a vote.

In addition, key provisions of the bill, while favored by victim advocates, have been vehemently opposed by major groups.

The church is vehemently against the one-year window giving victims in cases where the statute of limitations has expired under current law a year to bring a lawsuit, claiming it could bankrupt religious groups and organizations like the Boy Scouts.

Meanwhile, the last time a lawmaker sought to remove the requirement that sex abuse victims file an intent to sue a school or other public entity within 90 days of the incident was in 2009.

But Markey removed the provision two years later after strenuous opposition from groups representing school districts, mayors and counties.

One Assembly Democratic source fears again going after the public institutions could serve as a "poison pill" that will doom the legislation.

Markey, who has been the Legislature's lead advocate for years to make it easier for child sex abuse victims to seek justice, had not seen the latest Senate Democratic bill on the issue, her spokesman Michael Armstrong said.

But Armstrong said that "having the conversation is probably a healthy thing."

Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the Catholic Conference, was also unfamiliar with the new legislation.

"We'd have to take a look at the bill before we comment," Poust said. "There's all sorts of ways to address the issue of child sex abuse and we're open to looking at any possible solution."

A Senate GOP spokesman had not seen the bill and had no comment.

But a Republican insider noted that the Democrats were in charge of the chamber in 2009 and 2010 and did not pass the Child Victims Act.

That included then Sen. Eric Schneiderman, who chaired the powerful Codes Committee where the measure came up for a vote and died, the GOPer said. Schneiderman, now the attorney general, recently sent a letter to legislative leaders in both houses urging they pass a bill that would extend or eliminate the time limit abuse victims have to bring criminal and civil cases.

Michael Whyland, a spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, said the Assembly Dems will have to review the new bill before commenting.

Whyland said he does expect Heastie and his members will discuss before the legislative session ends in June whether to move any bill addressing the child abuse issue. The Assembly passed the Markey bill four separate times, but the last time was in 2008.