With the legislative session winding down, advocates as well as legislators, are looking to Governor Cuomo to cut through the cacophony and use his political influence to pass a bill that would expand protections for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
A version of the Child Victims Act passed by the Assembly on Wednesday faces an uncertain fate in the Senate as the factioning within the state’s upper chamber — and multiple versions of child victims’ rights bills — causes some confusion as to what comes next. The bill matching the one passed Wednesday (S.6575) is sponsored by Sen. Brad Hoylman, and provides for some of the strongest legal options for victims of childhood sexual abuse.
Hoylman’s bill would raise the statute of limitation for sexual abuse of a minor. Currently in New York, there is a five-year statute of limitations for filing legal actions once the victim turns 18, meaning that a victim must take action against their abuser before the age of 23. Hoylman’s bill would start the clock on that five-year statute at the age of 23, effectively doubling the current limit. It also would provide a one year look-back window during which victims of abuse that occurred many years ago would have an opportunity to take legal action against their alleged abuser.
Independent Democratic Conference Leader Senator Jeff Klein has sponsored a CVA bill (S.6585) similar to Hoylman’s with the exception of a commission set up by Klein’s, which would determine if cases occurring beyond the statute of limitations have merit.
There is also a bill sponsored by Senator Lanza (S.4809), which has the support of the Catholic Church, because of its lack of a look-back window. Hoylman’s bill is the same as Assemblywoman Rosenthal’s which passed the Assembly with bipartisan support last Wednesday by a wide margin of 129-7.
“I have been in contact with the Governor’s counsel continuously and I am told the governor will be sending a program bill at any time,” said Gary Greenberg, an abuse survivor and the founder of the Fighting for Children Public Action Committee. “Well, time is running out and it’s time for action, not lip service.”
Greenberg says he supports Senator Klein’s compromise bill, which would give a tribunal the power to open a one year window on a case-by-case basis, a sentiment shared by Senator Hoylman, who also called for the Governor to introduce a program bill after seeing his own bill stymied by procedural trickery.
In April, Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, R-East Northport, a long-time opponent of CVA bills that include a look-back window, moved Hoylman’s bill from the Senate Judiciary Committee – of which Sen. Hoylman is chair, to the Rules Committee, of which Sen. Flanagan is chair.
“The Senate broke their own rules,” said Hoylman. “Rather than have a vote, the leader of the Senate subverted their own rules in moving this to another committee without a vote.”
The Senate, as it currently sits, is electorally controlled by Democrats. However, due to the Independent Democratic Conference’s refusal to caucus with the Democrats, the Senate is controlled by Republicans. This imbalance allows for, in Senator Hoylman’s view, dishonesty.
“I think it’s the way of Albany. It’s cowardly for Senators to move issues that they don’t want to take votes on.” said Hoylman. “I presume the governing body is opposed to upsetting interests that might affect their reelection and they’re hiding behind procedure.”
“What they should do is bring this issue to the floor,” said Hoylman, D-Manhattan, to The Legislative Gazette during a telephone interview Thursday. “I don’t know what their concerns are because they don’t discuss them on the Senate floor or in committee.”
The interests Hoylman says his colleagues fear are numerous and powerful. The Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts of America and ultimately, the insurance industry, which would take the financial hit from any lawsuits. To date the Catholic Church has paid out over $1.2 billion to victims in California after the passage of their own child victims’ bill that included a look-back window.
When asked if he thought the Archdiocese of New York was making a veiled threat when its spokesman, Dennis Poust, said earlier this month in an interview with The Village Voice that implementing a law with a look-back window could undermine the church’s ability to provide services to the people of New York, Hoylman was adamant this shouldn’t be a financial argument.
“I think [Poust’s] assessment is based on their awareness of what their potential liability might be in New York,” said Hoylman. “There’s a serious public safety concern with an institution that is aware of a history of abuse and doesn’t do anything about it.
“We as New Yorkers need to be more concerned with providing closure for victims who have had their childhoods stolen by abusers.”