Four times since 2006, Assemblywoman Margaret Markey’s Child Victims Act — which extends the criminal and civil statute of limitations to punish sexual predators — passed the Assembly, but never made it to the state Senate floor for a vote.
The Maspeth lawmaker, however, isn’t giving up her efforts to make her bill a law.
Markey announced on Monday a renewed effort to make the Child Victims Act a reality, which includes meeting in Albany on April 22 with colleagues and advocates of sexual abuse victims. She also secured the support of state Senator Brad Hoylman of Manhattan, who is sponsoring a companion bill in the state Senate.
The Child Victims Act amends the statute of limitations to prosecute — and for victims to sue —alleged sexual abusers. Current state law requires that victims must present criminal or civil charges within five years of their 18th birthday.
Markey’s bill would eliminate all criminal and civil statutes regarding future child sex abuse cases, meaning that victims who are abused after the act becomes law may come forward and press charges or file a lawsuit at any time after the abuse took place.
Per a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, the existing criminal statute cannot be extended. However, the Child Victims Act also creates a “civil window” by suspending the existing statute of limitations on civil cases for one year so those who were victims of child sexual abuse before the law was enacted can make their case.
“Since so many abused children are not able to come to grips with what has happened to them until much later in life, it is the victims who suffer most as a result of our state’s archaic statute of limitations for these offenders,” Markey said. “Future generations of children are also at risk as pedophiles go unpunished for their crimes and can easily remain hidden and continue their abuse under current law.”
The Democrat-dominated Assembly passed the bill each time with overwhelming margins, but the legislation was left in committee in the state Senate, which the Republicans — at times in concert with a smaller faction of Democrats — led for the last several sessions.
“We keep passing it over and over again, but you don’t get anything on the receiving side,” said Mike Armstrong, a Markey spokesman. The lawmaker, however, feels emboldened this time around with Hoylman’s sponsorship in the State Senate.
The Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens, however, opposed the act in previous years, claiming the open-ended statutes would leave it vulnerable to litigation and settlements that could cripple the diocese’s finances.
“We continue to oppose this bill,” said Dennis Prost of the New York State Catholic Conference, which represents the bishops of all New York dioceses on public matters. The conference, however, supports similar legislation sponsored by Assemblyman Michael Cusick of Staten Island which would extend the civil and criminal statute of limitations in sex abuse cases to 28 years of age and make public institutions liable for such matters.
Prost called Markey’s legislation “fundamentally unfair” as it would open the door to litigation surrounding “decades-old cases.” Cusick’s bill, he noted, is “more fair” because it would more easily enable victims abused in public institutions to seek justice.
“Right now, if you want to sue a public institution, you have to file a notice of claims within 90 days in order for that window to be open,” Prost said.
But Markey, a practicing Catholic, believes the reasons for continued opposition to her bill amounts to “red herring excuses,” according to Armstrong.
“It’s a lifelong ordeal for the victims, and there ought to be some accountability if you can demonstrate there’s a perpetrator who can be identified and can be subject to a logical criminal case,” Armstrong said.