The sexual abuse of child victims is going to be in the news again over the coming months as advocates for a more expansive and humane approach in New York put pressure on legislators to make legal changes.
In this area, that pressure is going to be placed on two Republican members of the state Senate, John Bonacic and Bill Larkin. Their party and their majority has been instrumental in blocking efforts to change the laws for years and now a new organization, New Yorkers Against Hidden Predators, is vowing to start asking the two and others in the Senate why.
The issue is as simple as it is emotional. New York abuse victims must seek criminal charges or sue before they turn 23, much too early, advocates say, for many traumatized abuse survivors to come forward. A bill that the Assembly passed in a 139-7 vote in June would give victims until age 28 to seek prosecution and until age 50 to sue culpable institutions. It also would have given previously time-barred victims one year to bring cases.
Those who have successfully opposed the change, most notably the Catholic Church which has spent an enormous amount of money on lobbying, argue that this opportunity for victims would be what they like to call an "evidentiary nightmare," a challenge courts would be unable to negotiate.
The real reason that legislators have been lobbied so heavily to keep New York law the way it is concerns not justice but money.
"The bishops feel strongly that we need to do more to protect children from abuse and give survivors of abuse more time to seek justice," a spokesman for the Catholic Conference said. "Our only objection is with that retroactive window which comes without any caps on either time or dollars. Any organization that deals with children would be looking at potential catastrophic liability when you're looking at cases from the '50s and '60s."
The Archdiocese of New York prefers to make its own rules when it comes to such compensation and recently announced that it had paid about $40 million to189 people who identified themselves as victims of clergy sex abuse. The payouts averaged $211,600.
The Archdiocese said that when it comes to sex abuse by priests and others, "Fortunately, for the Catholic Church, such horrors are now mostly confined to the past."
Senators can either take that as fact or open the courts to see if there are other victims. If they believe the church, they should at least explain why and not duck the issue by avoiding a vote.
— The Times Herald-Record, Middletown
We're glad Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill that strengthens New York's Freedom of Information Law.
Previously, FOIL said a judge "may" make a state or local government agency pay your attorney fees and other litigation costs if you win a FOIL lawsuit. Now, the judge must make the agency pay your attorney fees if you win your suit "substantially" and if the judge finds that "the agency had no reasonable basis for denying access."
If you win but not "substantially," or if you win but the judge thinks the agency had legitimate reason to deny access, now the judge "may" make the agency pay your attorney fees.
That word "may" was a deterrent to suing over unfair denial of access to public records. Citizens trying to get the government to follow its own law didn't know whether they could afford to sue. Knowing what a risk they faced, government agencies sometimes decided to sit on documents they didn't feel like digging up and sharing. Now plaintiffs and their lawyers can make their decisions on the strength of their cases rather than fear of financial ruin.
Both the state Senate and Assembly had passed the bill, and the governor signed it Wednesday. We thank them for doing the right thing. There is more to do — the Legislature has always wrongly exempted itself from FOIL, which ought to change — but this was a step in the right direction.
— The Adirondack Daily Enterprise, Saranac Lake
In the 20 years since Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch and Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy introduced the Children's Health Insurance Program, it's never been used by either party as leverage to further other political goals.
CHIP provides insurance for almost 9 million children and several hundred thousand pregnant women who aren't quite poor enough to qualify for Medicaid but still can't afford private insurance. That includes 700,000 recipients in New York State, 66,000 of them on Long Island.
The lack of political horse-trading around CHIP for two decades represented a sort of pact, or social contract. It was as if politicians of all persuasions had agreed that health care for kids whose families could not otherwise afford it was an untouchable, unquestionable priority.
Funding for CHIP, which costs the federal government about $14 billion a year, ran out on Sept. 30, and Congress has refused to reauthorize it. The states, which administer CHIP, have mostly scraped together enough funding to keep their programs going, but that will soon cease to be true. In New York State, officials say funds could run out by March. In other states, like Connecticut, the well could run dry in just a few weeks.
The blame falls squarely on Republicans, whose House bill to fund CHIP for five more years included cuts to the Prevention and Public Health Fund, which helps fight the opioid epidemic. That bill also sought to raise money by shortening the grace period before people would be dropped from Affordable Care Act insurance plans for nonpayment, and it would have added a surtax on wealthy Medicare recipients. Democrats were unwilling to attach CHIP funding to those conditions, and they were right.
House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders have made it clear they want to pay for their tax extravaganza by cutting Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security in the new year. In that context, the haggling over CHIP feels like a test case to see whether both Democratic and Republican politicians, as well as the public, will roll over for such attacks on crucial and previously untouchable programs.
— Newsday, Long Island