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Law toughens penalties for child abusers

After enduring brutal abuse from his father, Jay-J, a 3-year-old boy from North Tonawanda, inspired a change in the law.

Jay-J’s Law, a child-abuse law named in the boy’s honor that was spearheaded by State Sen. Timothy Kennedy, D-Buffalo, and Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak, D-Cheektowaga, passed the Assembly Friday and Senate early Saturday.

The law, which helps ensure stiffer penalties against repeat child abusers, was written by Kennedy in late 2011. Earlier that year, Jay-J suffered 11 fractured bones and a lifetime of developmental delays at the hands of his father.

The law increases the “look-back period” from three years to 10 years in abuse cases involving children younger than 11. Once the bill is signed into law by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, an extended record of previous convictions will be considered in cases of repeat abuse.

Jay-J’s father missed an aggravated assault charge by one year, despite being convicted in 2007 of breaking the arm of another one his sons. Had Jay-J’s law been in effect in 2011, his father, who was charged with third-degree assault and second-degree attempted assault, would have faced the harsher penalties that come with an aggravated assault charge.

Kevin Retzer, Jay-J’s uncle, considers the new law a “common-sense bill.” He and his wife watched a live feed of the legislation proceedings for 12 hours. When the bill passed the State Senate at 2 a.m. Saturday, the two were reduced to tears of “unbelievable joy,” Retzer said. “We were fighting for every child in New York State,” he added.

The law will “empower law enforcement” to charge abusers with aggravated assault if they “have a history of ... hurting defenseless children,” Kennedy said.

Though laws are on the books to protect children, offenders can “escape appropriate punishment” because the prosecutor or sentencing judge does not have access to the “entire record of the accused,” according to Gabryszak.

Kennedy said New York State needs to become a leader in the nation for “strengthening the laws to increase penalties for anyone who would ever hurt a child.”