Hot-Button Topic

Legislation Introduced To Help Solve Abuse Problem

Andrew Goodell

The status of the Child Victims Act has been a hot-button issue statewide this year as campaigns for the state Assembly and Senate heat up.

Under the act, victims could file civil suits until age 50 and seek criminal charges until age 28. The bill would also create a one-year window allowing victims to file civil lawsuits for alleged abuse now barred by the existing statute of limitations.

The act has been passed several times in the state Assembly but has never made it to the floor of the state Senate for a vote. Once the state legislative session ended, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has spent much of the summer calling on the Senate to take up the legislation, including just a few weeks ago in the wake of the Pennsylvania attorney general’s probe into sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania.

“The revelations and sheer breadth of child sexual abuse by clergy members in Pennsylvania underscore the pervasiveness of this abhorrent crime and needs to be a call for action here in New York,” Cuomo said. “Currently under state law, the majority of child sexual abuse offenses cannot be prosecuted after five years, allowing abusers to go free and commit further abuse. That must change. For years, I have called for the passage of the Child Victims Act to provide victims with a path to justice, and for years Senate Republicans have blocked it. It’s far past time the Senate does the right thing, pass this bill and stand up for the victims of sexual abuse.”

While the Child Victims Act has spent the most time in the headlines, it is only one of three pieces of legislation dealing with child sexual abuse in the state Legislature. A competing piece of legislation, the Child Protection Act, was introduced in the state Assembly in 2017 while state Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, introduced legislation in the state Senate that would have created the Child Victims Reconciliation and Compensation Fund. Each piece of legislation has supporters and detractors.

Catharine Young

Here’s a rundown of each piece of legislation.

CHILD VICTIMS ACT

What It Does: Eliminates the statutes of limitation for prosecuting child sexual abuse crimes and filing civil lawsuits for damages against individuals, public institutions and private institutions related to child sexual abuse; creates a one-year revival period for cases on which the statute of limitations had previously run out; removes notice of claim requirements in actions alleging damages from sexual offenses against governmental entities.

Status: Passed the state Assembly, no floor vote in Senate. Gov. Andrew Cuomo is on record as being in favor of the legislation.

Local Representatives: Assemblyman Andrew Goodell voted against the legislation in the Assembly. Assemblyman Joe Giglio, R-Gowanda, voted in favor of the legislation. State Sen. Catharine Young, R-Olean, has not had to vote on the legislation publicly but proposed her own legislation. Judith Einach, a candidate for the state Assembly, is in favor of the Child Victims Act.

Gov. Cuomo

Pros: 1. Allows anyone who has suffered sexual abuse to file a claim. 2. No direct cost to the state. 3. Allows for punitive action against organizations that are alleged to have harbored child sexual abusers.

Cons: 1. The act makes no changes in the law to prevent child sexual abuse. 2. Has no mechanism to help victims of abuse who file claims against people or organizations with no ability to pay. 3. Eliminating the notice of claim requirements places taxpayers at greater risk of municipalities or school districts facing legal claims. To file a claim against a government, a notice of claim is filed, allowing the government to begin an investigation of the facts concerning the claim and gives government the right to conduct an examination of the person making the claim and the extent of injruies or damages allegedly suffered.

CHILD VICTIMS RECONCILIATION AND COMPENSATION FUND

What It Does: In addition to creating a fund to pay victims after their claim is heard by an impartial panel, the legislation eliminates the statute of limitations for sex offense prosecution of ofenses against a child less than 18 years of age, adds members of the clergy to the list of mandated reporters of child abuse in a family setting; adds an exception for allegations learned through confidential communications to clergy; requires mandated reporters to report allegations of child abuse law enforcement authorities; changes the state’s business corporation law, not-for-profit corporation law, religious corporation law and cooperative corporations law to mandate a criminal history search by businesses, religious entities and nonprofit corporations on all individuals who will work with children under the age of 18.

Status: Passed Senate Finance Committee 18-0, with 19 senators voting aye with reservations. Reported to the Rules Committee with no further action taken.

Local Representatives: Sponsored by state Sen. Catharine Young. Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, has said he supports the legislation.

Pros: 1. Creates a way to financially compensate a broader group of those who suffered abuse by creating a fund open to anyone. 2. Increases the number of people who are mandated reporters of child or sexual abuse while mandating criminal background checks for those who work with children under the age of 18. 3. Eliminating the statute of limitations on criminal cases.

Cons: 1. State taxpayers are paying claims for which the state bears no responsibility.

CHILD PROTECTION ACT OF 2017

What It Does: Eliminates the criminal statute of limitations on for sexual offenses committed against a child; adds five years onto the statute of limitations for civil cases; extends the time victims have to bring civil cases under the state’s General Municipal Law which governs state municipalities; adds clergy as mandated reporters who must report child abuse in a family setting while carving out an exception for allegations learned through confidential communications; requires mandated reporters to report allegations to law enforcement authorities; amends the state’s business, not-for-profit, religious corporation and cooperative corporations law to mandate criminal history searches for anyone working with children under the age of 18.

Local Representatives: The legislation is co-sponsored by Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, and Assemblyman Joseph Giglio, R-Gowanda.

Status: Referred to the Assembly Codes Committee. No votes have been taken.

Pros: 1. Increases the number of people who are mandated reporters of child or sexual abuse while mandating criminal background checks for those who work with children under the age of 18. 2. Eliminating the statute of limitations on criminal cases 3. Makes it easier for victims to make claims against government units while preserving the notice of claims system.

Cons: 1. Proponents of the Child Victims Act will note that the Child Protection Act does not extend the statute of limitations for civil claims nearly as far as the Child Victims Act does.

KEY DIFFERENCES

While the Child Victims Act focuses on making it easier for victims to file both criminal and civil cases agaisnt their alleged abusers, it doesn’t make much attempt to further protect children from abuse.

And, there is the issue of protecting taxpayers. The Child Victims Reconciliation And Compensation Fund protects organizations from financial harm but does come at a cost for taxpayers. And, it doesn’t allow for civil claims for damage against organizations, like the Catholic Church, who are alleged to have harbored child sex abusers for decades. That is also true of the Child Protection Act.

All three pieces of legislation would eliminate the statute of limitations on criminal cases while having differing standards for civil cases. One reason for this could be that the burden of proof in criminal cases is high enough that both Republican and Democrat legislators are comfortable with having criminal cases heard by a jury regardless of the time it takes for the victim to come forward. The disagreement comes with the statute of limitations for civil cases — backers of the Child Victims Act want to extend the statute of limitations far longer than Republicans in the state Senate are comfortable with.

COMMENTS