ALBANY — Activists lamented state lawmakers’ decision to potentially conclude session for the year early Friday morning without passing a handful of measures to impact survivors of sexual abuse, state health care and more.
Survivors and representatives with Safe Horizon, a nonprofit victim services agency, condemned Assembly leaders and lawmakers Friday for failing to advance the Adult Survivors Act before session’s end, or even bring the measure up for a vote.
The bill, which unanimously passed the Senate on June 3, would give New Yorkers who suffered sexual abuse over the age of 18 one year to file civil lawsuits for past trauma and hold abusers accountable, even if statutes of limitations on those legal claims have expired.
“By failing to pass the Adult Survivors Act, the Assembly is telling survivors that we do not matter,” said Marissa Hoechstetter, one of more than 200 survivors of sexual abuse by ex-Columbia gynecologist Dr. Robert Hadden. “The Assembly’s failure to even bring this widely supported bill to a vote where it surely would have passed also lets us know that they are OK with institutions enabling sexual violence. Their inaction negates their previous good work to extend statutes and take other protective measures.
“In order to stop serial sexual abuse, we need a public reckoning for those institutions that fraudulently conceal violence and protect predators. No matter their age, each victim deserves to be heard.”
The bill, sponsored by Sen. Brad Hoylman and Assemblywoman Linda B. Rosenthal, both D-Manhattan, died in the Assembly’s Judiciary Committee.
Assembly leaders have not returned requests for comment on the conference’s position on, or reason for, stalling the bill, which is modeled after the Child Victims Act. The Child Victims Act gave child sexual abuse survivors a vehicle to file civil lawsuits against their abusers for incidents that happened before age 18.
Childhood sex-abuse survivor Gary Greenberg, who was a leading advocate in securing the Child Victims Act’s passage, has been in communication with Assembly leaders, and said he believes the Assembly stalled the Adult Survivors Act to examine and amend issues with the measure.
Dozens of survivors of childhood sexual abuse have struggled to secure an attorney to take their case, especially if a victim’s abuser lacks financial wealth or other assets, or was not abused by an institution.
“Lawyers will not take cases where there is not a wealthy abuser or rich institution — we applaud the Assembly for taking the time to do its due diligence on the Adult Survivors Act,” Greenberg said. “We look forward to working with all parties to amend the Child Victims Act and pass an Adult Survivors Act that will allow all victims to obtain justice.
“We must see a victim’s fund, pro-bono work for lawyers and a percentage of lawyers’ winnings going to the fund.”
Greenberg thanked Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, and Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles Lavine, D–Glen Cove, for not bringing the bill to the floor for a vote with flaws intact.
But the majority of survivors argue legal hurdles challenging a handful of victims should not prevent action that will bring thousands justice.
“The Assembly’s failure to pass the Adult Survivors Act sends the message to survivors that they are not seen, heard or respected,” Safe Horizon CEO Liz Roberts said in a statement Friday. “The New York State legislature has committed a painful injustice against survivors, proving that laws which favor abusers take precedence over having their wrongdoing recognized and tried in the court of law. We will continue to fight for the rights of survivors until the justice system does exactly that.”
More than 6,000 New Yorkers have filed civil cases under the Child Victims Act since August 2019.
The Child Victims Act lookback window ends Aug. 14.
Supporters of the Adult Survivors Act weren’t the only activists to express immense disappointment Friday.
The New York Health Act, which would create a single-payer health care system for all New York residents, also failed to pass this legislative session.
Hundreds of New Yorkers from across the state, including health care workers, union leaders, small business owners and interfaith leaders, braved 90-plus-degree temperatures Monday in a three-hour Albany march and demonstration outside the Capitol to show support for socialized health care in New York.
An income-based graduated tax would fund the single-payer health care system.
“Universal, guaranteed health care is overwhelmingly popular, and the New York Health Act now has majority support in both chambers of the Legislature, so it is deeply disappointing that leadership did not bring the New York Health Act, a life-saving piece of legislation, to a vote,” Campaign for New York Health co-directors Ursula Rozum and YuLing Koh Hsu said in a statement Friday. “We are in awe of the everyday New Yorkers who have stepped up and spoken out about the care they’ve been denied, the medical debt they have accrued,and the loved ones they’ve lost under the for-profit health care system.”
The Health Act passed the Assembly four consecutive years from 2015 to 2018. The measure was first proposed in the Legislature 29 years ago.
Democrats, who secured a new veto-proof supermajority this session, were hopeful they had secured the votes to reach a deal and pass the bill this year.
“The fight for universal, guaranteed health care is a life-and-death fight and we are more determined than ever to win it in New York state,” Rozum and Koh Hsu said. “We believe the growth in the grassroots and from legislators in both the Assembly and the Senate shows we are on our way to winning.”
Lawmakers also did not bring the Clean Slate bill to the floor for a vote Thursday after reaching a deal earlier in the week to pass it.
Clean Slate would have sealed the criminal records of about 2.3 million New Yorkers after three years of the start of a sentence for a misdemeanor offense and seven years for a felony.
“We expected to pass and had the votes but unfortunately there were technical errors that couldn’t be fixed and passed,” Mike Murphy, a spokesman with Democratic Senate Majority said Friday. “We look forward to passing as soon as a deal is reached.”
The technical drafting error Wednesday night would have required Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign a waiver for the requirement for the bill to age three days before legislators could vote to pass it. Officials would not say why the governor didn’t sign the waiver after reaching an agreement.
Clean Slate would automatically seal about 2.3 million New Yorkers’ criminal records. The bill was originally set to seal and expunge criminal records after one year for misdemeanors and three years for certain felonies.
Representatives with the Clean Slate NY Campaign expressed sadness and frustration the announced compromise didn’t come to fruition Thursday night, adding the measure would address the state’s legacy of mass incarceration and reduce lifelong barriers to employment, housing and education by clearing New Yorkers’ old conviction records.
“For those of us who have suffered poverty, unemployment and homelessness because of our conviction records, Clean Slate can’t wait,” according to the campaign. “It is unconscionable that New Yorkers continue to be condemned to hardship and punishment even after we’ve served our sentences, and as we seek to support our families and contribute to our communities. For racial justice, economic justice, housing justice, and simple fairness, Clean Slate is an absolute necessity. The Senate and the Assembly have made clear they have the votes, and the legislature must reconvene immediately to pass this vital bill.”