In a surprise move, a bill that appeared to have died in the New York State Assembly Codes Committee has been revived, causing concern among survivors and advocates for victims of child sexual abuse, The Jewish Week has learned.
The bill, sponsored by Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn), was initially filed on Feb. 19 as an alternative to legislation proposed by Margaret Markey (D-Queens), but did not make it out of the Assembly Codes Committee – something that must happen before a bill can be voted on by the full Assembly. It has been reintroduced, with several changes, and is set to be voted on Tuesday, March 31 by the Codes Committee.
The Markey Bill, which did make it out of the Codes Committee earlier this month and will be scheduled for a floor vote, extends the civil and criminal statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse. And, most significantly, it creates a one-year window during which anyone can file civil actions, regardless of when the abuse took place.
The Lopez Bill also extends the statutes of limitations, though by fewer years, but notably contains no provision for a window.
According to advocates for victims of child sexual abuse, opening a one-year window in which currently time-barred claims can be brought is crucial. This, they say, is because it typically takes victims decades to come to terms with their abuse, let alone feel able to speak out about it publicly. Those who support a window note its role not only in providing some measure of justice to victims, but also in identifying previously unnamed sexual predators, who most likely would otherwise continue preying on children.
"The purpose of the Markey bill is to expose the pedophiles who have been out there and hiding," said Michael Dowd, an attorney who has successfully represented Catholic victims of child sexual abuse. "[The Lopez bill] just ignores the central problem. If you were going to have a bill that made any sense, you would have a bill that had a window. If you want to have it apply to public and private institutions, fine. But not to do anything about past sexual abuse is not doing anything to uncover pedophiles."
Groups that supported the Lopez bill in its first incarnation include the Catholic Conference, the Sephardic Community Federation and the United Jewish Organizations, a Williamsburg-based social services organization. While Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who has publicly championed the cause of sexual abuse victims since last summer, was a co-sponsor of Markey’s bill, he was also a co-sponsor of the first Lopez Bill. In fact, Hikind recently told the Five Towns Jewish Star that he was opposed to the window provision in Markey’s bill and is now a co-sponsor on the revamped Lopez bill. Hikind could not be reached for comment.
According to Marci Hamilton, professor of law at Cardozo Law School and author of "Justice Denied: What America Must Do to Protect Its Children," "The correct name for the new Lopez bill is ‘The Hide the Predator Act.’ Unlike the Markey bill, this bill does absolutely nothing to help New Yorkers identify the many secret child predators in New York, who have been benefiting from the short statutes of limitations for decades. With the Markey bill, we have a proven method of finding the predators in our midst. The Lopez bill gives them continuing cover to abuse our children."