Four New York lawmakers are proposing legislation that would complement the Child Victims Act and provide support for victims of child sexual abuse.
The bill would create the Child Victim Foundation Fund that victims could use for legal services. The money would come from two sources: An option on state income tax returns to donate all or part of a refund to the fund and a supplemental child victim fee charged to individuals convicted of child sex crimes.
The fund seeks to address a complaint about the Child Victims Act, a measure Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law in February. A provision in the law set a one-year look-back window for past child sexual abuse victims to file lawsuits against their abusers.
The one-year look-back began in August. Since the period commenced, Gary Greenberg and other advocates observed that some victims are unable to find attorneys who will take their cases because they aren't suing institutions, such as the Catholic Church or school districts.
State Sen. Jim Gaughran, a Long Island Democrat, acknowledged that there are victims who are "facing barriers to pursuing justice against their alleged abusers."
"I am proud to work side-by-side with these brave victims, including my colleagues Senator (Alessandra) Biaggi and Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, to establish a legal fund to ensure that every victim of child sex abuse has access to funding for legal services to seek the justice they deserve," Gaughran said.
Biaggi, D-Bronx, is cosponsoring the bill in the Senate. Assemblyman Charles Lavine and Niou will introduce the legislation in the state Assembly. During the Child Victims Act debate earlier this year, Biaggi and Niou revealed they were sexually abused as children.
Niou said in a statement that while more than 900 Child Victims Act cases have been filed since the one-year look-back provision began, victims lack resources to file their claims.
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"No one should be excluded from seeking justice," she said. "With this new fund and the Child Victims Act, we will be able to help every survivor have a fair chance to achieve justice and closure."
While Greenberg supports the legislation, he believes improvements should be made before it's considered by state lawmakers in 2020.
In an interview, Greenberg called it a "good start." He's having conversations with Gaughran on how the bill should be expanded.
"Most cases that are not being filed and are not being accepted by lawyers are still not going to be accepted by lawyers because they're just not going to go to court," he said.
Greenberg highlighted the challenges with the one-year look-back and the inability for some victims to pursue their cases. In September, he urged the state Legislature to create a $100 million fund to help victims. That proposal is similar to legislation introduced by former state Sen. Cathy Young in 2018. Young, an Olean Republican, sponsored a bill that would establish a $300 million fund.
But Greenberg also thinks the fund needs to assist victims with more than just legal expenses. He believes it should be used to help victims with medical expenses, the cost of therapy and living expenses.
"A lot of victims have paid in the past for these types of expenses," Greenberg said.
The bill won't be considered until the state Legislature returns in January. Greenberg expects that it will be a high priority for lawmakers, many of whom were strong supporters of the Child Victims Act.