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Child victim advocate’s work leads to hope

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    Gary Greenberg, of New Baltimore, who has advocated for the Child Victims Act for almost two and a half years at a rally for the bill in New York City this year.
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    Pictured from left: state Sen.-elect John Brooks, D-8; Gary Greenberg, advocate for the Child Victims Act; state Sen.-elect Anna Kaplan, D-7; and Sen.-elect James Gaughran, D-5.
November 10, 2018 12:00 am

NEW BALTIMORE — An advocate for legislation that would remove the statute of limitations for sex crimes committed against children is hopeful that the recent shift in control of the state Senate will lead to passage of the crucial bill after two years of waiting for action.

For many Democrats, the mid-term election was a major victory, shifter the balance of power in the House of Representatives and state Senate to members of their party.

For Gary Greenberg, a New Baltimore native and a survivor of child sexual assault, the midterms were a victory for a different reason.

Democrats winning the majority of seats in the state Senate is the first major triumph Greenberg has seen in his two-and-a-half years fighting for passage of the Child Victims Act, legislation that would remove the statute of limitations of crimes such as child sexual assault, abuse and harassment.

“The obstruction of the Child Victims Act coming to the floor for a vote went with the Republicans,” Greenberg said Thursday. “I am sure now it will pass unanimously without problems.”

Republicans controlled the Senate with support from a breakaway group of Democrats called the Independent Democratic Conference, and Senate President John Flanagan, R-2, had the power to decide which bills made it to the floor for a vote.

That power shifted when Democrats won a majority of seats in the Senate on Tuesday, which will mean business in Albany will be conducted somewhat differently.

Multiple versions of the Child Victims Act have been proposed over the years.

The Assembly passed a version of the Child Victims Act two years in a row that would have counted down the statute of limitations in criminal sex abuse cases beginning when the survivor turns 23 years old. The bill would also extend the statute of limitations in civil cases to when the survivor turns 50, with a one-year period for past victims of abuse to file a civil suit against involved organizations.

A version of the Child Victims Act sponsored by state Sen. Catherine Young, R-57, was gathering momentum in the last weeks of this year’s legislative session with support from a number of Republican senators, but died in the Rules Committee, just before reaching the floor for a vote.

Young’s bill would eliminate the statute of limitations as well as create a public fund to compensate victims, on the chance that those responsible for the abuse are considered unable to make restitution, or have no ties to an organization, and civil lawyers refuse to take on the cases.

Greenberg argued in the past that more than 80 percent of cases fall into this category.

The failure of the state Senate to bring the bill to the floor for an up-or-down vote this year was the last indication for Greenberg that as long as leadership remained the same in the Senate, the Child Victims Act would not pass. So he pushed for a change through the election process.

“We made robo calls, sent texts, held rallies all over the state and made digital advertisements,” Greenberg said. “Wherever we went we got a good deal of support.”

Greenberg and his Fighting for Children Political Action Committee endorsed and supported 23 candidates in this year’s state legislative races, all Democrats, including Pat Strong of Kingston, who ran against Sen. George Amedore Jr., R-46, and Aaron Gladd, of Brunswick, who ran for the 43rd Senate District.

Of the candidates Greenberg supported, nine won their races: Monica Martinez in the 3rd Senate District, James Gaughran in the 5th, Kevin Thomas in the 6th, Anna Kaplan in the 7th, John Brooks in the 8th, Andrew Gounardes in the 22nd, James Skoufis in the 39th, Peter Harkham in the 40th and Jen Metzger in the 42nd.

Greenberg also spent about $50,000 in this election cycle.

Now with Democratic control in Albany, Greenberg said talks between all the leaders could lead to changes to the proposed bills.

“Past and future victims will be able to get justice now, when they are ready,” Greenberg said. “Republicans should come out and support and vote for the Child Victims Act because it is the right thing to do.”

State Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-59, introduced his own version of the bill, the Child Victims Protection and Accountability Act, Thursday, that would eliminate the statute of limitations, extend the age limit for filing a civil case to 50, and would require the clergy to report sexual assaults.

“I am on the side of the victims in this,” said state Sen.-elect Daphne Jordan. “I will definitely support some version of the bill.”

The one-year look-back provision of the Assembly’s version of the bill is a sticking point for many Republican senators. Some believe it would bankrupt organizations such as the Catholic Church. Gallivan’s bill does not include the one-year look back window.

“Some people are talking about limiting the amount of the liability for organizations,” Jordan said. “Young’s bill is another version to look at. We will have to see what comes to the floor.”

Amedore, who has expressed support for some version of the Child Victims Act in the past, was not available for comment as of press time.