Sex Abuse Bill May be Headed for Vote Next Week
A newly amended bill to extend the statute of limitations for child sex abuse and to allow a one-year “window” for otherwise time-barred lawsuits may come up for a vote in the New York State Assembly as early as Monday or Tuesday according to one of its sponsors.
The controversial measure, opposed by the Catholic Church and some Orthodox Jewish organizations, is sponsored by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Queens) and Sen. Tom Duane (D-Manhattan).
“The bill has already been overwhelmingly adopted in three previous sessions and I am cautiously optimistic that we have the votes to pass it in the Assembly again next week and I look forward to its adoption by the Senate during this session,” Markey said in a news release today.
The proposal would add five years to the statute of limitations for civil and criminal claims of child sex abuse. The controversial part, though, is the one-year window: For one year, people who have already “aged out” of the statute of limitations could sue individuals and institutions over alleged molestation, even if it happened decades ago.
Proponents of the bill argue that opening the gates for lawsuits is the only way to expose – and stop – pedophiles who may still be preying on children. Opponents say it’s not right to allow lawsuits over abuse that happened so long ago.
The main argument against the bill, which is stalled in the Assembly, is that it would only apply to private institutions – because of the way the bill and the state law are written, Catholic schools and yeshivas could be sued for long-ago abuse, but public schools would be protected from lawsuits.
On Wednesday, June 3, Assemblywoman Markey agreed to amend the bill so that it would apply equally to public and private institutions. The amendment is aimed to win over lawmakers who were concerned about the fairness issue. But now it runs the risk of angering powerful groups such as municipal unions. So far, the teacher’s union has said it won’t fight the bill. The bill’s supporters hope it will get a vote in the Assembly early next week, before opposition has time to coalesce.
The amended bill also puts an age limit on who can sue during the “window” - only those who are 53 years old or younger when the bill passes will be eligible. This change is aimed at countering the notion, raised by some opponents, of people suing over abuse that took place literally 80 years ago.
“While I am absolutely committed to the right of every victim to have full access to justice for their claims, the adoption of this bill this year is a critical first step that we must take,” Markey said.
One Orthodox umbrella organization lobbying against the bill, Agudath Israel of America, said the amendments do not change its opposition. “Our objection was and remains the window provision [temporarily] lifting the statute of limitations,” Agudah spokesman Avi Shafran said today.