Catholic Group Sees Payback in Abuse Bill

Capital New York
June 15, 2015

Assemblywoman Margaret Markey. (gifterphotos)

As discussion swirls about an education tax credit that will benefit private and parochial schools, the Assembly is advancing a bill—long opposed by the state's Roman Catholic bishops—that makes it easier to sue for childhood sexual abuse.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Margaret Markey, a Queens Democrat, would create a one-year window during which people sexually abused before their 18th birthday could bring suit against their alleged abusers—including private institutions like summer camps and church organizations. The window does not apply to public school institutions. The state's Catholic Conference opposes the bill, which could open the church to a flurry of lawsuits and drain its coffers for legal defense, settlements or awards.

A spokesman for the Catholic Conference, Dennis Poust, questioned why the bill suddenly re-emerged during the final week of the legislative session. He said it seemed to be retaliation for an aggressive lobbying campaign on behalf of the tax credit, which has sent over a dozen mailers into the districts of some Democratic Assembly members.

“This is a bill that has not moved in the Assembly in years, due to the fact that it selectively targets private institutions while giving publics a pass,” Poust said. “The timing, given our strong advocacy in favor of the education tax credit and the calling out of Assembly majority members, certainly gives the impression of political payback, which is really quite chilling.”

The Catholic Conference supports a bill carried by Assemblyman Mike Cusick of Staten Island—which he inherited from former Assemblyman Vito Lopez—that extends the statute of limitations by an additional five years but does not include any window for older claims.

Several Democrats in the chamber said the mail campaign has steeled their opposition to the credit. Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, who represents the Upper West Side, said “that kind of pressure makes people say they won't listen.”

Markey told Capital she was “confident” her bill will pass the Assembly but was unsure of its chances in the State Senate, where a spokesman declined to comment on it. She said the timing was not related to the tax credit push.

“We've had hearings on this issue. It's gone before the codes committee, it's gone before the conference committee. The first few months of the session is all about budget, and then after April, we start focusing on legislation. It's the process that we have here,” she said. Noting the testimonials of sex abuse victims, she added, "There are an awful lot of people who have been hurt by this situation. I think it's time that we recognize that, and we give these people their day in court. That's all their asking for. They have to prove their case. We're not handing them anything.”








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