Gov. Cuomo introduces own Child Victims Act bill as legislative session nears end

By Kenneth Lovett (NY Daily News)
June 14, 2017

ALBANY - With just a week left in the legislative session, Gov. Cuomo on Wednesday introduced for the first time his own Child Victims Act bill.

The bill, obtained by the Daily News, mirrors the one passed by the Assembly last week.

"This is about justice and I urge this measure to be passed before the end of session and allow these victims the ability to hold their abusers accountable - something they've wrongly been denied for far too long," Cuomo said.

The move won praise from many of the victims who have been fighting for the issue for more than a decade.

"I applaud Governor Cuomo's strong leadership and his commitment to justice and the safety of children," said Kathryn Robb, who was one of the survivors and advocates who have been working with the governor's staff in recent months. "He is, to my mind, the justice governor."

Cuomo's long-anticipated decision to push a bill now puts the focus on the Senate Republicans, who have for years blocked passage of legislation designed to make it easier for child sex abuse survivors to seek justice.

"The pressure is now on (Senate Majority Leader John) Flanagan to demonstrate that he is on the side of children, not on the side of predators," said Andrew Willis, founder of the Stop Abuse Campaign.

Assembly Child Victims Act sponsor Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) called Cuomo's decision to back her bill "wonderful news."

"It's the kind of leadership we've been asking for and looking for," Rosenthal said. "Now it's up to the Senate to pass this bill and give relief and access to justice for survivors."

The Cuomo and Assembly bills would allow survivors to bring civil cases up until their 50th birthdays and felony criminal cases until their 28th birthdays. Currently, they have until their 23rd birthdays to bring such cases.

The bills also include a one-year window to revive old cases and treats public and private institutions the same. Currently, those abused in a public setting like a school have just 90 days from the incident occurring to formally file an intent to sue.

Cuomo aides said the governor and his staff met repeatedly with advocates and considered the various versions of the Child Victims Act that have been introduced before deciding the Assembly bill represented the best chance for success.

"This is our position," one Cuomo aide said. "We think it is an important position to take. We hope this will be a tool to engage with the (Independent Democratic Conference) as well as the Senate Republicans and the Assembly to reach consensus."

There is room, the aide said, to address in negotiations concerns about the potential for frivolous lawsuits that some opponents of the one-year window to revive old cases cite.

A spokesman for the state Catholic Conference, which has opposed the Assembly bill, could not be reached for comment. The Catholic Conference supports measures to address child sexual abuse moving forward but vehemently opposes any bill that includes a window to revive old cases.

Some child sex abuse survivors and advocates had been supporting a version of the bill recently introduced by Sen. Jeffrey Klein, who heads the eight-member breakaway Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC, that is aligned with the Republicans.

Klein's bill was seen as an attempt to win over recalcitrant Republicans who oppose the idea of opening a one-year window to revive old claims.

Klein's bill would create such a window, but also a five-member commission that would decide whether a case has merit to proceed to court.

The Cuomo aide said some of the advocates were under the impression that a bill with the commission might pass muster with the Senate GOP. But the Republicans still have reservations while the Assembly Democrats have "significant concerns" about the idea, the aide said.

Klein spokeswoman Candice Giove said the IDC members "put forth what they believe is a sensible proposal to get justice for child victims, and they look forward to working with the governor and members of both houses to reach an agreement in the final days of session."

No bill will make it to the floor without the GOP majority allowing it.

Senate GOP spokesman Scott Reif made no commitment to take up the bill or pass any version of the Child Victims Act this session.

"Time and time again the Republican-led Senate has authored and approved common sense measures to protect children from sexual predators, and we will continue to do so. There are a number of similar proposals on this issue and they remain under review," Reif said.

Sen. Brad Hoylman, the Manhattan Democrat who is sponsoring the Rosenthal bill in the Senate, called Cuomo's backing of it "a breakthrough moment."

"It's been languishing in the Legislature for years and now we can move forward is my hope," Hoylman said.

Gary Greenberg, an upstate investor and child sex abuse survivor, had supported the Klein bill but is now backing the governor's legislation.

"We've asked the governor to come out with a program bill and he has and I think all advocates have to support this now," Greenberg said.

Nikki DuBose, a former model who was sexually abused as a child, sent a letter to Cuomo saying that "I fully support your program bill that will mirror the Assembly Bill. At this point and after this long, we need to pass a bill that will protect children from sexual abuse - period. Every day that goes by, another 150 children are sexually abused."

While Willis celebrated Cuomo's action, he also said he'll be watching to see how hard the governor pushes to get the measure passed before the scheduled June 21 end of the legislative session.

"Introducing a program bill is great, but passing a program bill is what counts," Willis said.

Cuomo's bill came the same day 28 survivors and advocacy groups put out a statement urging the governor to call a meeting with the legislative leaders to hammer out a Child Victims Act deal before the end of the legislative session.