A final state budget deal went forward on Friday without including the Child Victims Act, legislation that would have expanded the statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases and created a "look back" period for victims to file lawsuits in cases of abuse from years ago.
"The best I can say is its disappointing and not surprising," said Thomas Travers, a Buffalo man who says he was sexually abused by a Catholic priest in the 1970s. "Putting it in the budget was a sure way to get it enacted."
Victims of sex abuse will continue to advocate for the bill in the next legislative session, he said.
Since 2004, several bills to expand the statute of limitations and establish a look-back provision passed the state Assembly, while similar measures in the Senate languished. Advocates were optimistic Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's inclusion of the measure in his state budget proposal this year would help propel it into law.
New York is among the most restrictive states in the nation when it comes to allowing victims of sexual abuse from years ago to file lawsuits against their alleged perpetrators. Current law gives victims until their 23rd birthday the opportunity to bring civil and criminal cases. The Child Victims Act would expand it to age 50 for civil cases and age 28 for felony criminal cases.
Victims advocates also sought a controversial look-back provision that would open a one-year window during which victims could file lawsuits for cases potentially dating back decades. Victims and their advocates said the trauma of the abuse often makes it difficult for many victims to come to grips with it until many years later.
But institutions including the Catholic Church, some yeshivas, the Boy Scouts and the insurance industry lobbied against the look-back provision.
Advocates will now turn their attention to unseating state senators who they believe stymied the legislation.
"We've educated as much as possible, now the strategy is to change people in office," said Travers.
Travers singled out local Republican state senators Chris Jacobs and Patrick Gallivan for not doing more to support passage of the Child Victims Act.
Gallivan said Friday he was committed to holding past perpetrators of child sex abuse accountable and preventing such abuse. But he said he still had questions about the proposed 12-month window and whether it would generate an excessive number of false claims. He also questioned if justice would be served by having today's institutional leaders trying to defend the actions of those from generations ago.
"I'd be comfortable with no statute of limitations in criminal cases," said Gallivan. "You would still have the same standard of proof."
Jacobs could not be reached Friday by The News.
The New York State Catholic Conference has argued against the window for years, saying it could potentially cripple parishes, school districts and other nonprofit organizations in cases from decades ago that might be impossible to defend against. Dennis Poust, spokesman for the state Catholic Conference, declined to comment Friday on the Child Victims Act.
Mark V. Lynch, 63, a Youngstown man who recently filed a complaint with the Buffalo Diocese alleging that he was sexually abused by a priest when he was 13, said Friday he was outraged by the Catholic Church's opposition to the look-back provision.
"One day, the bishop is telling victims of clergy abuse that he wants to help them. The next day, he is in Albany, fighting against a law that would help protect victims," Lynch told The Buffalo News. "That really upset me."
Story topics: Clergy sex cases