|Controversial Sex Abuse Bill Passes State Assembly Committee
By James T. Madore
March 18, 2009
ALBANY - A controversial bill that would temporarily lift the statute of limitations on lawsuits alleging sexual abuse of children was adopted Tuesday by an Assembly committee.
In an 11-8 vote, the Codes Committee sent the legislation from Assemb. Margaret M. Markey (D- Maspeth) to the Assembly floor for a vote, which could occur in a few weeks. The measure passed the legislature's lower chamber three times previously only to die in the then-Republican-controlled State Senate.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D- Manhattan) told Newsday the bill would be brought to a vote. "There is no short circuit - it comes to the floor, that's our process."
Still, powerful interests such as the Catholic Church oppose the legislation because it gives people alleging sexual abuse as children a special one-year window to file suit in civil court, regardless of how long ago the abuse occurred. The one-year period would start when the bill is signed into law.
Many abuse claims against priests were dismissed because they were made after the current time limit, which is five years after the accuser turns 18.
Asked for Markey's response to the committee vote, aide Michael Armstrong said she "continues to be cautiously optimistic that this is the year for this legislation."
He also said Markey would not accept amendments to the bill. "This bill does not single out anybody," Armstrong added.
Sean Dolan, of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, disagreed, saying the bill "unfairly focuses on the church and private institutions ... it will wreak havoc on the church in New York and more specifically on Long Island."
In the Senate, the bill is sponsored by state Sen. Thomas Duane (D-Manhattan), but there isn't yet a timetable for consideration.
At yesterday's Assembly committee meeting, political party affiliation and geography didn't influence the outcome. The three members from Long Island were split, for example.
Assemb. Robin Schimminger (D-Kenmore), who opposed the bill, said lifting the statute of limitations temporarily would produce innumerable claims. "There is no ceiling, no final number that we know of ... it's kind of open-ended," he said.
Schimminger, joined by seven other committee members, pushed unsuccessfully for a rival bill, which doesn't include the one-year window and adds two years to the statute of limitations. The measure, from Assemb. Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn) and state Sen. Carl Kruger (D-Brooklyn), is backed by the Catholic bishops, in part because it eliminates the liability of employers and other third parties.
Assemb. Joseph Lentol (D-Brooklyn), codes committee chairman, predicted the bill will be considered eventually.
Separately, state Sen. Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx) has introduced a measure eliminating the statute of limitations for sex abuse against children. It doesn't yet have a sponsor in the Assembly.
How they voted
The 19-member Assembly Codes Committee yesterday approved a bill providing a one-year window for victims of sexual abuse to file lawsuits even if their cases are decades old. The bill now goes before the full Assembly for a vote.
Joseph Lentol (D-Brooklyn), committee chairman
Thomas Alfano (R-North Valley Stream)
James Brennan (D-Brooklyn)
Vivian Cook (D- South Ozone Park)
Steven Cymbrowitz (D-Brooklyn)
Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove)
Daniel O'Donnell (D-Manhattan)
J. Gary Pretlow (D- Mount Vernon)
Michele Titus (D-South Ozone Park)
Helene Weinstein (D-Brooklyn)
Keith Wright (D-Manhattan)
George Amedore (R-Rotterdam)
Philip Boyle (R- West Islip)
Nick Perry (D-Brooklyn)
Robin Schimminger (D-Kenmore)
Dede Scozzafava (R-Gouverneur)
David Townsend Jr. (R-Rome)
Mark Weprin (D- Queens Village)
Kenneth Zebrowski (D-New City)
Compiled by Albany bureau chief James T. Madore
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