Panel Advances Bill on Lapsed Sex Cases

By James M. Odato
Albany Times Union
March 18, 2009

Religious groups fear effects of longer statute of limitations in measure

ALBANY A bill that would allow for the reopening of lapsed cases of sexual abuse of children is moving to both legislative chambers despite strong opposition from religious organizations fearing bankruptcy if alleged victims get an extension on the statute of limitations to sue.

The Codes Committee of the Assembly passed the measure Tuesday, meaning it will be sent to the general body soon, and the Democrat-controlled Senate companion piece gained more sponsors, including the head of that chamber's Codes Committee, Sen. Eric Schneiderman.

The bill creates a one-year window of opportunity to revive a "dead" case if the claim comes with a certificate from a professional, such as a psychologist, who opines that the alleged victim probably was subjected to one or more acts of child sexual abuse.

The legislation, which was put forward by Assemblywoman Margaret M. Markey, D-Queens, and Sen. Thomas Duane, D-Manhattan, also calls for extending the civil statute of limitations for an injury or condition as a result of the felony of incest or use of a child in a sex act. Such suits would be permissible under the new law if filed five years after a person turns 23, instead of five years after turning 18, as is the case now.

The measure passed 11-8 in the Codes Committee, much closer than in the past, with mostly GOP opposition but also some no votes from the Democratic majority.

However, although Assemblyman George Amedore, R-Rotterdam, voted against the measure, Assemblyman Thomas Alfano, R-North Valley Stream, supported it.

"People should have their day in court," said Alfano. "They still have to prove it to a jury."

Assemblyman Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, voted no on moving the measure, saying it is unprecedented to reopen cases other than those for exposure to suspected carcinogens where facts can be clearly ascertained.

The measure cleared the Assembly three years running, but this year the obstacle of a Republican-led Senate has been removed, said Mark Furnish, Duane's counsel.

He said victims have appealed for the chance to sue and need greater time because many cannot cope with going public until well beyond their teenage years. He said several Hasidic Jewish victims recently appealed to have the age limit extended more than a dozen years past age 18. Similar measures are the law in California and Delaware and have led to hundreds of settlements, typically paid by insurance companies.

Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the Catholic Conference, said the measure must be defeated to protect dioceses from financial ruin. The conference instead backs an alternate bill that would specifically impact private and public institutions without the one-year window opened on cases that are decades old.

The Markey/Duane bill is supported by the Public Employees Federation and the New York State Trial Lawyers. The Rev. Jason McGuire, legislative director of New Yorkers for Constitutional Freedoms, said the proposal is a way for trial attorneys to get rich.

Odato can be reached at 454-5083 or


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