State Legislature overwhelmingly approves Child Victims Act

Richard Moody, Columbia-Greene Media

January 29, 2019

Originally published in Register Star on January 28, 2019.

ALBANY — All 63 state senators passed the Child Victims Act, which will extend the statute of limitations on sex crimes committed against children, providing justice to survivors after years of fighting.

The Assembly also overwhelmingly passed the legislation, 130-3.

The statute of limitations for criminal sex cases such as child sexual assault under the new law will not begin to count down until after the child turns 23 years old, setting the final limit at 28 years old, and extends the statute of limitations for civil case until the person is 55 years old.

The Assembly has passed a form of the Child Victims Act three years in a row, but the legislation always failed to make it to the Senate floor.

Gary Greenberg of New Baltimore, a survivor of child sexual assault, was at the state Capital ahead of Monday’s scheduled vote.

“This is a huge day,” Greenberg said. “We worked awful hard for this day. Today is a victory. We defeated the evil entities and the special interests standing in the way of justice for victims.”

After years of pushing for the legislation in the Senate, Greenberg blamed Republicans, who led the Senate until Democrats swept to victory in November, for the delay, and used his influence and his Fighting For Children Political Action Committee to help Democratic candidates win key elections in 2018.

Democrats supported by Greenberg and his PAC won several races and took over the majority in the historically Republican-led Senate.

After the election, Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who included the Child Victims Act in his 2018 budget proposal, called on the Legislature to pass it in the first 100 days of the legislative session, which started Jan. 9.

Cuomo met with advocates for the Child Victims Act on Monday, before the vote, as a rally for its passage. A vote was expected to take place late Monday.

“It’s been a long, long time coming,” Cuomo said. “We have literally been meeting and talking for years. This issue, the Child Victims Act, we have put in the budget every year, we’ve made it a priority every year. And at the end of the day, we were foiled by the conservatives in the Senate. I don’t even believe it was the moderates in the Senate. I believe it was the conservatives in the Senate who were threatened by the Catholic Church. And this went on for years.”

The sticking point for organizations such as the Catholic church is a provision in certain versions of the bill that provides survivors with a one-year window to file a civil suit against organizations involved in their cases. Republicans in the past have argued that such a provision would bankrupt accused organizations.

At the insistence of Greenberg, the new law includes the one-year look-back, which allows lawsuits against both public and private organizations.

But local Republican senators, including Sen. George Amedore Jr., R-46, have perennially supported the legislation.

“I have always said I would vote in favor of the Child Victims Act when it got brought to the floor,” Amedore said. “And I am glad that victims will get the justice they deserve.”

State Sen. Daphne Jordan, R-43, also voted for the bill.

“The victims of sexual assault deserve justice,” Jordan said. “I voted for the Child Victims Act today because I am 100 percent on the side of victims and believe they need relief from the horrifying crimes and terrible abuse they suffered. Today’s Senate passage of the Child Victims Act will help ensure that some of the most vulnerable in our society will finally have their voices heard and see justice.”

Greenberg backed Democrat Pat Strong, Amedore’s opponent, in the 2018 election.

“I’m going to go on a victory tour around the state to make victims aware of their rights,” Greenberg said.

But Greenberg’s work is not finished, he said, arguing that the extension of the statute of limitations is not enough. In the past Greenberg and Cuomo proposed a complete elimination of the statute of limitations.

Also missing from the new law is a fund proposed by state Sen. Catherine Young, R-57, that would provide survivors with financial compensation to when they are unable file civil suits. More than 80 percent of crimes committed against children do not make it to civil court because the defendant has been considered “worthless,” meaning there is nothing to gain for a lawyer, Greenberg said. The fund is a mechanism meant to reduce that number.

Young offered several amendments to the legislation including one that would completely eliminate the statute of limitations and one that would create the fund for survivors, but the amendments were defeated.

“The fund is important because a lot of victims cannot participate in what we achieved today,” Greenberg said. “We will continue to fight to make the bill better.”