ALBANY — The head of a breakaway group of state Senate Democrats is amending his proposal to help child sex abuse victims in a way that has won over some skeptical advocates.
Sen. Jeffrey Klein’s bill contained a provision to create a commission to examine, evaluate and make binding recommendations on time-barred civil claims within a one-year window to determine if they could move forward.
Klein said the idea of the commission is to screen cases that are barred from proceeding to trial under current law to make sure they’re not frivolous and allowing legitimate ones to proceed.
But after a number of survivors complained a commission would merely set up another hurdle that victims have to get through that victims of other crimes do not, Klein agreed to make changes.
According to his spokeswoman, in addition to having a former prosecutor and a defense attorney, the five-member commission would now also be required to include a medical trauma expert and another plaintiff lawyer with experience litigating sexual abuse claims. The panel would also have to use a “good faith standard” when deciding whether a case can proceed.
Klein initially proposed having the court system develop new standards for the commission.
With the changes, Klein said that “I stand by the legislation as the best way to move forward to get a very important issue resolved.”
Marci Hamilton, a lawyer and advocate for child sex abuse victims, survivor and lawyer Kathryn Robb, and victim and journalist Steve Jimenez worked with Klein on the amendments. The three previously opposed Klein’s idea for a commission.
“I think the amendments create more fairness and justice,” Robb said. “It also creates a safety for those who worry about false claims, albeit they are rare.”
Whether it is enough to convince the Senate Republicans to take the measure up before the June 21 scheduled end of the legislative session remains to be seen.
The Senate GOP, along with groups like the Catholic Church, religious organizations, and the Boy Scouts, have long opposed the idea of creating one-year window to revive old cases.
Klein confirmed he met Friday with Timothy Cardinal Dolan. He said the meeting was scheduled before he developed his bill, but the legislation did come up.
Dennis Poust, a spokesman for the state Catholic Conference that Dolan heads wouldn’t confirm the meeting, but said the organization continues to oppose any Child Victims Act that includes a “retroactive window — that includes with a commission or without a commission.”
Survivor Kat Sullivan, who was raped as a student in 1998 at Emma Willard, a private Albany-area girl’s school, continues to oppose the Klein bill, even with the amendments.
“Sen. Klein’s commission is a bully bill that places an additional and excessive burden on survivors of sexual abuse who should not have to be re-victimized by a panel of ambiguously appointed ‘experts,’ who could potentially be vulnerable to unavoidable conflicts of interest, before earning the right to be heard in a court of law,” Sullivan said. “True advocates want good policy, not participation trophies.”
The Assembly on Wednesday passed its own version of the Child Victims Act. The Assembly bill sponsored by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) allows victims to bring civil lawsuits until their 50th birthday and criminal cases until their 28th birthday. It opens a one-year window to revive old cases and treats private and public institutions the same when it comes to sex abuse cases.
Klein’s bill would also treat public and private institutions the same. But the bill differs not only because Klein would create the commission to decide whether to revive old cases, but he’d also do away with the legal time frames connected to criminal and civil child sex abuse cases.
Rosenthal wasn’t aware of the specifics but said she fears having two versions of the bill could throw a wrench into actually getting something into law this year.
“The Assembly has been leading on this issue for years and it’s time for the Senate to step up and do the right thing,” she said. “The time for games has passed.”
The Senate Republicans are expected to discuss the issue and how to proceed behind closed doors as early as next week.
If you or someone you care about was sexually abused and you would like advice from an attorney about the rights and options for victims of child sexual abuse, please contact Crew Janci LLP today for a free, confidential consultation at 1-888-407-0224 or by using our private online form. We will treat you with discretion and respect.