In the waning hours of the legislative session, the state Assembly put New York closer to becoming the 37th state to adopt "Erin's Law."
By a 143-1 vote, the Assembly passed legislation early Friday requiring schools to instruct students in kindergarten through eighth grade on preventing child sexual abuse and exploitation.
The state education commissioner will develop recommendations for the classes and establish regulations. The commissioner will consult with the Department of Health to develop programs "designed to educate students, parents and school personnel about the prevention of child sexual exploitation and child sexual abuse," according to the bill.
It was the first time the Assembly voted on the bill in the eight years Erin's Law, which is named for child sexual abuse survivor and advocate Erin Merryn, has been considered by legislators. The state Senate approved the measure before, including a unanimous vote earlier this month.
Merryn, who visited the state Capitol this year, told The Citizen that the legislation previously stalled in the Assembly Education Committee. With the support of new Assembly Education Committee Chair Michael Benedetto, the bill advanced out of committee this week.
When it was brought to the floor early Friday, there wasn't a debate. Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, who sponsored the bill, called it a "natural follow-up" to the Child Victims Act, a law signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in February that increases the criminal and civil statute of limitations for child sexual abuse cases.
After the Assembly approved the bill, state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi — the sponsor of Erin's Law in the Senate — lauded her colleagues for prioritizing the measure.
"This legislation will empower children to speak up if they feel unsafe by providing students with the tools to report instances of sexual abuse and prevent further harm," said Biaggi, who revealed in January that she was sexually abused as a child. "I am forever grateful to Erin Merryn for bringing this issue to light — because of her bravery to speak out, New York's children will be that much safer."
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Passage of the bill is a victory for Merryn, who has traveled around the country urging states to adopt the legislation bearing her name.
She highlighted the law's benefits in other states, including Maryland, where a teacher was eventually convicted of sexually abusing multiple students after one of the pupils participated in a sexual abuse prevention class mandated by Erin's Law.
"The children of New York will finally have a voice and be armed with the ability to speak up and tell if they have been abused because of this education they will receive once a year under Erin's Law," Merryn said in a statement Friday.
Merryn acknowledged the help she received from celebrities, such as Mariska Hargitay and Julianna Margulies, and Gary Greenberg, a New York businessman and advocate.
Greenberg launched Protect NY Kids and the Fighting For Children PAC when he lobbied for passage of the Child Victims Act. After the Child Victims Act became law, he shifted his focus to Erin's Law.
Greenberg, like Merryn, is a child sexual abuse survivor. He said Erin's Law will complement the Child Victims Act as a "necessary educational component."
"This bill will finally give New York's children the tools they need to empower and protect themselves against childhood sexual abuse," he said.
The legislation will be sent to Cuomo's office for review.