News & Politics

Cuomo’s Silence Is Deafening As Time Runs Out On Child Sex Abuse Bill

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As the state’s legislative session winds to a close, Governor Andrew Cuomo has yet to announce his support for the Child Victims Act, despite his promises to survivors that he’d help get a bill passed this year.

The act, which would extend the restrictive time frame for victims of child sexual abuse to seek justice, recently sailed through the assembly with a vote of 139 to 7 before stalling, as such bills do, in the state senate.

Politico reported that Cuomo met with survivors’ advocates last week, but his spokesperson, Rich Azzopardi, remained noncommittal. “All options remain on the table,” Azzopardi said.

But senators in the powerful Independent Democratic Conference have drafted an amended version of the legislation that stands a modest chance of appeasing everyone from abuse survivors to the act’s foes, who face intense pressure from the Catholic Church to oppose it.

The bill, introduced by State Senator Jeff Klein, contains a provision that would require a commission to weed out potentially frivolous cases, despite evidence that such cases are rare. But pushback from survivors, wary of confronting yet another set of legal hurdles, convinced the IDC to change that provision.

As the Daily News reported, the five-member panel would not only include a former prosecutor and defense attorney, but also be required to include a medical trauma physician and lawyer with experience with sexual abuse claims. The idea initially was that the state’s chief judge would create the new commission’s rules, though the bill has since been altered to say that the committee will operate on a “good faith standard,” a spokesperson for the IDC clarified. 

The good faith standard, which already has a legally defined meaningwill scrutinize the basic facts of a claim for evidence of falsification, said Marci Hamilton, CEO of the advocacy group Child USA. The inconvenience to survivors of dealing with a committee is worth the trouble if it means convincing senate Republicans to pass the bill, Hamilton said.

“I think it’s a proposal seriously worth considering,” she said.

But it remains unclear whether Cuomo will back the bill before the legislative session ends June 21.

Andrew Willis, a childhood survivor of rape and the founder of the Stop Abuse Campaign, told Gothamist that Cuomo looked him in the eyes and assured him he’d do everything he could to force the bill’s passage.

Now, he’s not so sure Cuomo will deliver.

“There’s very few days left for the governor to show that he’s got it, and I keep saying to myself: ‘Why wouldn’t he want to get this bill passed?’ ” Willis said.

Cuomo’s office has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

The governor, though, is not the only impediment to the law getting passed.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, a Republican, single-handedly holds the keys to whether potential legislation will get voted on. Flanagan did not respond to a request for comment, but Hamilton said that Klein is in talks with him to support the bill.

And the Catholic Church has vowed to continue its opposition.

Even so, elected officials at a certain point must address the gathering public pressure to pass the act, Hamilton said.

“Part of it is that there’s a sense that they just want to get it over with,” Hamilton said, adding that the CVA has been on the table in various forms for the past thirteen years.

“Eventually, they have to explain why they’re blocking this bill,” she said.