ALBANY — The Assembly overwhelmingly passed a measure Wednesday that would allow sexually abused children many more years to try to prosecute or sue their abuser.
The bill passed 129-7 after a sometimes emotional debate. The bill now goes to the Senate where advocates believe the Child Victims Act faces its best chance of approval in the 10 years it has been proposed. The Senate’s Republican majority has for years blocked the bill, which has been strongly opposed by the Catholic Church and other religious groups. The groups have warned the measure could bankrupt faith-based organizations and the social service programs they operate.
“Without the law, the weak are defenseless,” said Assemb. Charles Lavine (D-Glen Cove) in supporting the bill. “And without the law, the vulnerable are even more vulnerable.”
The bill would extend the statute of limitations for criminal cases by five years, provide a one-year period to bring old cases, and allow civil cases to be lodged until the victim is 50 years of age, rather than 23 years old under current law.
“Nothing is more important than this,” said Assemb. Dov Hikind (D-Brooklyn). “Nothing is more important than this. We should do this in both houses and go home. And God would say, ‘Bless you.’ ”
“If you violate children like this, you deserve everything you get,” said Assemb. Charles Barron (D-Brooklyn). “Let’s get some money to these victims.”
But Republican members of the chamber’s minority conference warned that the bill sponsored by Assemb. Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) was too broad and would allow people to be accused of a heinous crime long after evidence that could prove their innocence degrades. The critics also said the bill would result in many civil settlements so that the accused could avoid a public trial, even if they innocent.
“Reputations could be dragged through the mud,” said Assemb. Raymond Walter (R-Amherst).
“You are going to see a lot of settlements here,” said Assemb. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Smithtown). “Everyone single one of us would kill someone who would do that to our children. But the statute of limitations is there for a reason.”
Rosenthal said New York can pass the measure “if we can only show half as much courage as those survivors who have led the charge.”
“Our statute of limitations . . . allows dangerous predators and institutions that harbor them to walk the streets, free from punishment, and very much capable of harming others,” she said.