Politicians and child abuse survivors rally June 5 in Brooklyn for legislation to make it easier for child sex abuse victims to seek justice, but some say Assembly bill is insufficient. (JEFFERSON SIEGEL/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
ALBANY — Advocate opposition to an Assembly bill making it easier for child sex abuse survivors to seek justice may be the final nail in the coffin on the issue this year, legislative insiders say.
Assembly Democrats introduced a bill last week they believe holds the most promise of passing the chamber. The bill would extend the statute of limitations to bring a case to a victim’s 28th birthday, up from 23.
It would also open a six-month window to revive old cases and treat public and private institutions equally when it comes to dealing with sex abuse cases.
But advocates were quick to trash the bill for not going far enough. They want the statute of limitations eliminated or greatly extended.
That could spell doom since it’s unlikely the Senate Republicans would accept a bill that goes further than the Assembly proposal.
“I don’t know why they came out of the gate like that,” said one insider. “This is a way forward.”
While no one officially declared the measure dead, those interviewed acknowledged the strong unlikelihood that Gov. Cuomo, the Assembly and Senate can reach a deal on a joint bill before the legislative session’s scheduled end Thursday.
(NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
“Unless you do exactly what the advocates are calling for, what’s the point in even trying to reach a three-way, negotiated solution?” asked a second legislative insider. “The advocates did themselves no favors here.”
Some complain the criticism, which was referenced on Thursday by Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan (R-Suffolk County), has simply given the GOP cover not to reach a deal.
A third source said that while the advocates currently have the most momentum on the issue thanks to a Daily News campaign, it might serve them better to wait to see how the fight for control of the Senate plays out in this fall’s elections. The Senate Democrats have pushed the most comprehensive plan on the issue.
Gary Greenberg, an upstate investor who says he was sexually abused as a child in 1966 and called the Assembly plan “garbage,” said lawmakers need to look at themselves in the mirror and help victims.
“How can you blame people who have been victimized already?” Greenberg asked angrily. “The legislators are being paid to do a job. Do it.”
Rest assured, they are also being paid not to do a job!
He said the Catholic Church has fought against a tougher bill and should be called out by legislators as protecting predators.
The Assembly chamber in the State Capitol in Albany on Wednesday, May 25, 2016. (JEFFERSON SIEGEL/NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
Greenberg, who has created a political action committee to go after senators who oppose the Child Victims Act, suggests a bill that includes allowing a victim to bring a lawsuit until they are 59 1/2, has a nine-month window to revive old cases and caps at $1 million monetary awards to victims in civil cases.
“You take (age) 28, that will be it for years,” he said of the statute of limitations contained in the Assembly bill.
Kathryn Robb, an advocate and child sex abuse survivor, said Sunday that “as a collective and seasoned group of advocates, there is the understanding that the Assembly has launched a first positive step forward for victims of child sex abuse.”
But she called it “ironic” that some in the Legislature are blaming the advocates for the bill’s possible demise this year.
“The victims get victimized; it seems to be the commonality,” Robb said. “I can only hope the leadership in both houses just get out from underneath all the crap and present a bill that will help victims and children.”
The proposed bill would leave out at least half of historical victims. 28 years old is nowhere near old enough as most of us are in our thirties, forties, and fifties before we are able to face the violation of our souls.
The legislators seem to think that any bill is better than no bill, perhaps that's how legislature works, but it's not how it should work. It's political cowardice! Do it right the first time!
Cuomo should try to ram through a bill like Greenberg suggested and force the Republicans to vote it down. They will then have to face the music this fall. Who knows, enough of them might cave to allow the bill to pass.
Pennsylvania Senate holds hearing on controversial bill aimed at making it harder for child sex abusers and the employers who protect them to escape punishment.
Steve Esack Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG — Bruce Castor, Attorney General Kathleen Kane's solicitor general, testified Monday that it is illegal for the state Legislature to pass a bill that retroactively would allow civil lawsuits on child sex abuse cases at least 50 years old.
Castor's comments poked holes in the agency's own grand jury sex reporters. The attorney general's office had said such legislation was legal in recommending bills be passed as part of grand jury reports in the child sex abuse investigations of Jerry Sandusky in 2011 and the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese in 2016.
Castor said he based his legal opinion on three old state cases, including one from 1908, that examined the so-called "remedies clause" in the state constitution. The court decisions show it is illegal under the remedies clause to allow retroactive lawsuits in instances when the statute of limitations had run its course. Therefore, the retroactive aspect of House Bill 1947 is illegal while the rest of the bill is good, Castor said.
"House Bill 1947, if enacted into law in its current form and without amendment, will in our opinion, violate the remedies clause of the Pennsylvania Constitution," Castor said during the hearing.
Castor's legal interpretation runs counter to recommendations issued in the Sandusky and the Altoona-Johnstown Catholic Diocese grand jury reports done by the attorney general's office. The recommendations are based on a legal review done by the attorney general's office and the recommendations are then approved by a grand jury of citizens and a judge.
Catholic Church lobbying hard against child sex abuse bill
During the hearing, Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, asked Castor why his opinion differs from that of the office's grand jury reports.
Prior to Kane hiring him, Castor said, he did not study the remedies clause closely. But his legal review of existing case law makes him believe he is correct.
In an interview after the hearing, Castor said his opinion on the remedies clause does not weaken the office's prior grand jury investigations. As solicitor general, appointed by Kane, his legal opinion carries the weight of the office.
Castor's testimony came in a hearing on House Bill 1947, which would increase the time victims can privately sue their alleged abusers and the employers who protected them. The bill also would treat future cases of child abuse like murder, so they can be prosecuted at any time.
During Sunday Masses in the Philadelphia Archdiocese and elsewhere Catholic priests, at the behest of their bishops, have denounced the bill and the state lawmakers representatives who supported it.
Still refusing to accept responsibility for the evils they committed. Still totally unconcerned about the victims of their evils. If the diocese is sued into bankruptcy it is because it earned it. It deserves whatever befalls it. Priest, Bishops and Arch-bishops will all have to give an accounting before God for this continuation of victimization. They don't even seem to know that. Do they actually believe in God?
The Catholic church is not against the criminal law change for future child abuse cases. It opposes the civil law changes, arguing they are illegal and could bankrupt the church because there are no financial caps for damages as there are for government-run institutions.
"House Bill 1947 is a complicated bill," said Amy Hill, spokeswoman for the Catholic Conference, the lobbying group for all dioceses in Pennsylvania. "We have long been concerned about how it will conflict with the Pennsylvania Constitution."
Oh BS! You are not the least bit concerned with the Constitution!
The House overwhelmingly adopted the bill in April, about a month after a state attorney general's report accused two Catholic bishops of allowing at least 50 priests and other religious leaders to sexually abuse hundreds of children for five decades in the Diocese of Altoona-Johnstown. Based on the grand jury report, the attorney general's office on March 15 charged three Franciscan friars with child endangerment and criminal conspiracy.
The Altoona-Johnstown grand jury recommended lifting all statutes of limitations, and the same recommendations were made in grand jury reports detailing former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky's crimes and sex abuse cover-ups in the Philadelphia Archdiocese.
The grand jury report, as well as Rep. Mark Rozzi's personal story that a priest raped him when he was 13, pushed the bill through the House in a 180-15 vote April 12.
The bill would erase the 30-year statute of limitations on when criminal sex-abuse charges can be filed, meaning sex charges could be brought any time after alleged abuse occurred.
The bill also would add 20 years to the 12-year civil statute of limitations that dictates when an adult who was the victim of child sex abuse can file lawsuits against abusers and institutions. The change means adults up to age 50 can file civil lawsuits for old instances of sex abuse — no matter how far in the past they occurred.
That's still going to leave some victims out in the cold.
Finally, the bill would partially lift the sovereign immunity clause that prevents child sex-abuse victims from suing state and local governments.
The bill says a victim could receive up to $200,000 and $500,000 from state or local governments, respectively, if he or she can prove in a civil lawsuit the abuse was caused by "gross negligence" of officials responding to a child sex-abuse claim. The dollar amounts are based on laws that waive sovereign immunity for accidents on highways, sidewalks and in liquor stores.
In sermons and circulars, priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese and elsewhere have blasted the bill and the House lawmakers who voted for it.
After seeing himself criticized in his church's Sunday bulletin, Rep. Nick Miccarelli, R-Delaware, took to social media. He wrote on Facebook that the church was spinning falsehoods about him and the bill, and claiming that public institutions are immune from lawsuits. Miccarelli pointed out that Penn State University has been sued multiple times for Jerry Sandusky's crimes.
"Frankly, I would much rather be chastised from the altar than to be damned for not allowing justice to be done," Miccarelli wrote.
Monday's hearing is the first time the bill will be examined by the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sens. Stewart Greenleaf, R-Montgomery, and Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery. Castor used to work for Greenleaf's Montgomery County law firm, Elliott Greenleaf.
Castor's involvement in the Senate hearing is the third high-profile legal debate concerning sexual abuse issues he has faced in recent months.
In his role as solicitor general, Castor decided not to appeal a court ruling involving three Penn State administrators who were accused of covering up Sandusky's crimes and lying to a grand jury. Castor's decision effectively caused the state to drop the most serious charges against former university president Graham Spanier and top aides Tim Curley and Gary Schultz.
Castor is a former Montgomery County commissioner and district attorney. In November, he lost a bid to become the county's top prosecutor partly because of criticism over his 2005 decision not to prosecute Bill Cosby on charges he drugged and sexually abused a woman.
In other words, he doesn't exactly identify with victims of child sex abuse.