Senate Republicans Propose Child Victims Act Compromise
By David Lombardo
May 10, 2018
|FILE — Senator Catharine Young, chair of the Finance Committee, questions New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio during the New York State Legislature joint budget hearing on Monday, January 30, 2017, in Albany, ... more Photo: PAUL BUCKOWSKI|
State Senate Republicans proposed legislation on Thursday that would compensate victims of child sex abuse with public money in lieu of payoffs from perpetrators or institutions where the crimes may have occurred.
The bill from Sen. Catharine M. Young, R-Cattaraugus County, would end the statute of limitations for the criminal prosecution of certain sexual offenses and provide restitution for child victims using a $300 million asset forfeiture fund controlled by the Manhattan district attorney's office, according to a press release.
Gary Greenberg, an outspoken child sex abuse survivor who helped craft the legislation, described the proposal as a positive first step.
"It's the first time that the Republicans have put anything on the table that will actually compensate victims ... it's progress," he said.
The Democratic-controlled state Assembly and Gov. Andrew Cuomo have offered their own, similar versions of a Child Victims Act, as it's been called, but their proposals were left behind in the recent state budget negotiations with the Senate Republicans.
For years, the breakdown has centered on the desire by advocates for a one-year look back window for victims to bring civil claims in cases where New York's statute of limitations has expired.
The measure unveiled Thursday by Senate Republicans, who have long opposed the look-back provision, is the first time they have offered a compromise. Under their plan, civil claims that would be paid from the dedicated fund could be made without any time restrictions but undergo a review process that would include hearing officers with investigative powers and experience in sexual abuse cases.
A claims administrator would make awards based on economic conditions, such as medical expenses and lost income, and non-economic factors, including physical impairment or the loss of life enjoyment, according to the bill. The claims administrator would also consider the type of abuse and age of the victims.
The bill doesn't allow for punitive damages and a victim would have no recourse to appeal a ruling to an outside court.
The limitations include not allowing individuals to file a claim if they were already compensated for their abuse or qualify for traditional legal recourse.
Sen. Brad Hoylman, a Manhattan Democrat, said the legislation would misuse the Manhattan district attorney's asset forfeiture fund. "Those settlement funds are specified to be used for criminal justice investment and public safety, not for civil settlements," he said, adding that the money in the forfeiture fund had already been directed to other projects.
Young defended the use of the money, saying there is a long history of the state using funds in this fashion and that the use could be characterized as a criminal justice initiative.
The Manhattan district attorney's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hoylman supports legislation that lets victims sue their abusers or institutions even if the current statute of limitations has expired. But under the Senate Republican's plan, there would be no litigation and therefore no potential public accounting of the past abuses.
"This is taxpayer-funded hush money they're proposing," Hoylman said.
Young disagreed with that characterization of the proposal and urged Hoylman to work toward a bipartisan solution for victims.
Greenberg said the new fund would be beneficial for victims abused by individuals who may not have the assets to pay an appropriate financial penalty. "This fund would give those victims an opportunity," he said, while acknowledging it would allow institutions and wealthy individuals to avoid making additional payouts.
The legislation calls for the fund to be replenished on an annual basis. The bill also makes a "member of the clergy" a required reporter of sex abuse.
Asked about the legislation before the text was available, Cuomo voiced his support for the Child Victims Act legislation advanced in his budget.
Heading into November, Greenberg, who created a political action committee to support candidates advancing the CVA, said he will hold politicians from both parties accountable if a version of the law isn't enacted before the legislative session ends in six weeks.