|Sex-abuse Bills Go before Assembly Steering Committee
By Mike Latona
April 30, 2009
The New York State Catholic Conference continues to seek public support for legislation it contends would level the playing field between Catholic and public institutions when it comes to civil lawsuits related to child sexual abuse.
In April two state Assembly bills, the Child Victims Act of New York (A2596) -- known as the Markey bill -- and alternative legislation known as the Lopez bill (A5708a) were sent to a special Assembly steering committee. As they are being weighed, the Catholic conference is asking the state's Catholics to send e-mails to their Assembly members in support of the Lopez bill -- which the conference and the state's eight bishops support -- and in opposition to the Markey bill. (To send an e-mail based on pre-written models, visit www.nyscatholicconference.org and click the "Take Action Now" link.)
The conference stands strongly against the Markey bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey (D-Queens). Her proposed legislation would temporarily waive the state's current civil statute of limitations on child sexual-abuse cases, giving alleged victims one year to lodge previously time-barred claims -- no matter how long ago the abuse is said to have occurred -- against private organizations and businesses. But the Markey bill does not address the statute of limitations on claims against public entities. In New York, regardless of the nature of their claims, those who wish to sue a public institution are required by current law to file a notice of claim, notifying the institution of their intent to sue within 90 days of an incident.
An April 24 advisory from the Catholic conference stated that "the Markey bill would only apply to private institutions, like churches, synagogues, the Boy Scouts, YMCAs, etc., shutting out thousands of victims who were abused in public schools or state facilities." The conference added that the Markey bill "does nothing to allow for lawsuits against public institutions even if the claim is only a few months old."
The Catholic conference further opposes the Markey bill due to what it describes as potentially disastrous financial fallout for dioceses around the state. According to the conference, similar legislation passed in California in 2002 has resulted in more than 800 lawsuits and more than $1 billion in claims. This has caused dioceses to settle such claims by selling church properties and cutting vital programs and services.
Instead, the Catholic conference backs the Lopez bill, sponsored by Assembly member Vito Lopez (D-Brooklyn), which does not include the one-year window. Most importantly, this bill does not distinguish between public and private entities.
"Lopez's bill would apply equally to all victims of sexual abuse, regardless of where the abuse occurred," the Catholic conference advisory said. "Under Lopez, all victims of sexual abuse in public schools or other public institutions have exactly the same legal rights to sue as those abused in private institutions."
Dennis Poust, the Catholic conference's director of communications, said April 28 that it's unclear when the steering committee will next meet, remarking that "the whole process is rather secretive." Poust added that possible courses of action are to "move one (bill) and not the other, move both, move neither or work with the sponsors on some sort of compromise legislation."
Poust noted that the conference's vigorous advocacy efforts have seemingly paid off thus far.
"We see growing momentum for the Lopez bill," he said, noting that the bill now has 59 sponsors compared to Markey's 44. However, he added that "we know that there is a long process and the Markey bill may well have the votes needed to pass in the Assembly. We are continuing to educate legislators, particularly on the fairness issue. It is hard to justify giving public institutions a free pass, especially since Lopez has very clearly shown how easy it is to do a bill that treats all victims the same."
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