New York State Assembly plans new legislation to help child-sex abuse victims

Thursday, June 2, 2016

ALBANY — Finally, some good news for child sexual abuse victims in their fight to obtain justice.

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D-Bronx) said his chamber is working on new legislation that would eliminate or significantly extend New York’s statute of limitations for child abuse cases.

“I think we have been having good, productive, conversations,” Heastie said Thursday. “We may be looking to come up with a draft of a bill that would be acceptable to the conference that I think would accomplish a lot of the things that the victims are looking for.”

Heastie provided few details but said the new bill would likely include some sort of a lookback provision that gives victims a chance to revive old cases — a key component sought by survivors and advocates who want to change the law.

“I believe it would include a lookback but what the lookback timeframe is, I don’t want to say exactly — that is because that is one the things we are trying to figure out,” Heastie said.

Heastie’s comments, which came in front a gaggle of reporters outside his Assembly office, marked one of the most encouraging signs yet that lawmakers will take action to help victims before the Legislature ends its session on June 16.

The Senate and Assembly both gaveled out for the week Thursday and will have only seven more session days left on their calendar when they return to Albany on Monday.

Heastie said there have been discussions with the Republican-controlled Senate on the issue but he indicated the new legislation was largely a creation of the Democratic-controlled Assembly.

The Assembly leader also made it clear the Daily News’ campaign on the issue was having an impact.

“I think for us and the conference, I think it’s important for us to kind of put out where we are so that these guys (the Daily News) will maybe talk about something else other than this topic in the Daily News,” he said.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Suffolk County) did not respond to requests for comment.

Senate GOPers are among the most vocal critics of eliminating the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases, arguing it could spur a torrent of frivolous and difficult-to-prove cases.

Gov. Cuomo has said he would like to see a bill passed by the end of the legislative session that eliminates the statute of limitations pertaining to criminal cases and extends it for civil cases. He also said he’s open to a one-year window to revive old cases, but only if it protects due process for both sides.

“As we’ve previously said, we’re working with both sides to address this important issue this session,” Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said Thursday.

A spokesman for the Catholic Conference, which opposes efforts to eliminate the statute of limitations and give victims a lookback window, declined comment on Heastie’s statement.

Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Queens), the longtime sponsor of the Child Victims Act, said she could not provide details on the new bill being drafted, but was encouraged.

“I think it will happen before the end of session,” Markey said of the new Assembly bill.

Her bill would eliminate the civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases and implement a one-year lookback window for those who can no longer sue under current law.

One legislative source told The News that an option being discussed would raise the age limit for victims of child sexual abuse to bring civil cases from their 23rd birthday to 50, which would allow many victims whose cases are currently barred by time limits to bring new claims.

“Basically, the only people it wouldn’t help are people who are already 50,” the source said.

Kathryn Robb, an abuse survivor and one of the leading advocates for changing New York’s laws, hailed Heastie’s comments but said it’s not enough just to raise the age limit to 50.

In NY State, if the sex abuse of a child isn’t reported before they turn 23, their violator can’t be charged or sued. The News says this sickening protection of predators must end.

“It is not acceptable to me because there are thousands of victims that don’t have the ability to break through their shame and embarrassment and trauma to come through at age 50,” said Robb, 56. “For some it is much older.”

Another legislative source said Cuomo behind the scenes has been talking about raising the age limit to 55.

“There’s only so many features that can be negotiated and that’s one of them,” the source said.

Still, Robb said Heastie’s talk of a new bill is a sign of progress.

“That is encouraging and bravo to the speaker,” she said. “I just hope the Senate will do the same.”

Heastie’s comments came after Linda Fairstein, a best-selling author and former Manhattan prosecutor wrote in The News on Wednesday that it was time to pass Markey’s bill and there was “no reasonable opposition” to it.

“We need to recognize the pervasive nature of the crimes of child sexual abuse by passing the Child Victims Act,” Fairstein wrote. “We need to arm our survivors with a chance to do justice, just as we need to end this epidemic of victimization and restore dignity to our children, whenever they have the strength and courage to speak out.”

Spokesmen for the Senate GOP and the Catholic Conference had no comment on Fairstein’s piece.

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