For the sixth year in a row, Maspeth Assemblywoman Margaret Markey is pushing the state Legislature to pass a bill that would extend the statute of limitations for victims of sex abuse to file claims against their attackers.
Markey’s Child Victims Act adds an additional five years to the current statute, meaning people could come forward until they turn 28. Under the current state law, individuals can come forward for five years after they turn 18.
The bill would also suspend all statutes of limitations for a period of one year, starting the day it passes.
Markey’s bill passed the Assembly four times since 2006, but never the State Senate. She introduced it again this year, but as of press time it wasn’t co-sponsored by anyone on either side of the Legislature.
The bill is disputed by members of the Catholic Church, who argue that it targets private institutions, when public entities have an equally large history of sexual abuse against children.
Stefanie Gutierrez, a representative from the Diocese of Brooklyn, said the Markey bill selectively targets private organizations by not addressing a state law that requires individuals who wish to sue public institutions to file a “notice of claims” with the court within 90 days of an incident.
Sexual abuse is a big problem in public schools, with more than a dozen claims brought forward by current students in recent months, Gutierrez said.
She said Markey’s 2009 bill applied evenly to public and private institutions.
The current bill’s text does not mention either.
“[Markey] basically abandoned that approach because of broad legislative opposition to any proposal that invited more lawsuit against every public school and municipality in New York State,” Gutierrez said.
But Markey said in a phone interview Monday that her 2009 bill, which addressed the notice of claims issue, didn’t garner any support from the Senate or Assembly. She said the church never expressed support for it either, so she took the wording out.
Regardless, “I in my own mind cannot fathom any judge denying someone the right to sue if they’ve been sexually abused,” Markey said.
The assemblywoman held a series of three press conferences in Albany last week, in which she brought forward two men who charge that they were abused by a Syracuse University assistant basketball coach.
Joining in the conferences was filmmaker Chris Gavagan, who is making a documentary based on abuse he suffered at the hands of a roller hockey coach when he was growing up.
“I think we demonstrated that this is not an issue about the church,” Markey said of the conferences. “It is an issue about sexual abuse of children.”
Markey said she will continue to push her bill every year until it passes. A representative from her office added that this is a crucial point in the Legislative session, with lawmakers discussing major issues such as hydrofracking and redistricting – leaving other bills to fall by the wayside.
In her conferences, Markey also brought forward victims from a lawsuit filed in 2009 involving the Poly Prep Day School in Brooklyn for alleged sexual abuses they suffered at the hands of a sports coach.
In an interview last week, Attorney Kevin Mulhearn, who represents seven of the clients in the Federal Court case Zimmerman v. Poly Prep, CDS, said the statute of limitations doesn’t apply to his clients, but they are looking to help other victims it does affect.
He said the statute doesn’t apply to his clients because of fraudulent statements on behalf of the Poly Prep administration, which he is alleging knew about the abuses but continued to let the coach remain at the school for 25 years.
“They acknowledged that the coach was abusing kids,” Mulhearn said of Poly Prep, “and they did nothing about it.
“My clients are looking to help people who were victims by sex predators,” he added. “Their philosophy is, ‘if we can help one child from being abused, then we’ve done our jobs.’”