Assemblyman Michael Fitzpatrick (R,C-Smithtown) joined the Assembly Minority Task Force on Sex Crimes Against Children and Women to hear testimony from law enforcement officials and experts in the fields of domestic violence and sexual assault. The forum in Albany kicked off the task forceís second series of statewide hearings aimed at reducing sexual violence in New York state.
The panelís mission is to analyze sex crimes perpetrated against children and women throughout New York state by gathering and examining information from experts in domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual abuse and law enforcement. The task force will utilize the information to determine legislative measures that can improve the quality of protection for children and women.
"In 2003, the Assembly Minority Task Force on Sex Crimes Against Children and Women was formed and completed the first portion of its mission. When it comes to addressing issues as vital as the safety of women and children across New York, I fully support the mission of the task force and the efforts of its chair, Assemblyman Mike Spano, its vice-chair, Assemblywoman Dierdre Scozzafava, and Minority Leader Charles H. Nesbitt," added Assemblyman Fitzpatrick.
Last year the task force examined the effectiveness of Meganís Law and sought to develop new ways of protecting children from sexual predators. Its efforts resulted in a comprehensive legislative package, generated from forum feedback, that has since been passed into law as the Child Protection Act of 2004. This year, the task forceís focus is on legislation aimed at strengthening laws to improve the quality of protection for women.
Featured speakers at the Albany task force hearing were: Patricia DeAngelis, Rensselaer County district attorney; Kathleen Magee, director of domestic violence services at Equinox, a comprehensive domestic violence services provider in Albany County; Jacqui C. Williams, director of policy and education for the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, who develops and coordinates the organizationís public policy program, including its Legislative Awareness Day; Janice Treanor, director of Unity Houseís emergency services, and an advocate for victims of domestic violence; Melissa Mahar, an 18-year-old survivor of domestic violence, who uses her personal experiences to educate other teens.
"The experts that spoke at the task force informed us of the issues that are of particular concern to them," said Assemblyman Fitzpatrick. "Issues such as the late budget, which affects funding for the various programs these organizations offer to victims, eliminating loopholes in current laws to better protect women, children and the public from violent offenders, and the issue of continued civil confinement for violent sexual predators if they are deemed a threat after completing their prison sentence," added the assemblyman.
Among the suggested legislative measures that received serious consideration from the task force and the invited speakers were:
- Civil confinement, which provides for continued civil confinement of sexually violent predators by establishing procedures to retain offenders who have committed acts of sexual violence and are deemed likely to offend again.
- Criminal procedural reform that would limit plea bargains to any crime other than a sexually violent offense for sex offender registration purposes and allow for prosecutorial appeal of low bail and sentencing determinations. The legislation also could alter the standard for the admissibility into evidence of a defendantís commission of another sexual assault, and revoke youthful offender status upon a second conviction within five years.
- Statute of limitations and DNA evidence expansion that would eliminate the statute of limitations for Class B violent felonies and expand the definition of a "designated offender" (those individuals required to provide a biological sample for DNA testing and inclusion in the New York state DNA Identification Index) to include all persons convicted of and sentenced for a misdemeanor or a felony as defined in the penal law.
- Increased penalties for serial rapists that would require people convicted of multiple counts of first-degree rape against different victims to serve the sentence for the convictions consecutively to any other undischarged term.
- Testing of rape suspects and voluntary testing of crime victims for transmissible diseases. This provision would require certain criminal defendants and juveniles to be tested for transmissible, or contagious, diseases when they are charged with particular offenses, and it facilitates the voluntary testing of crime victims for transmissible diseases.
- Domestic violence legislation and creation of a "domestic assault" crime category that would expand the definition of "member of the same family or household" in the Criminal Procedure Law and the Family Court Act to include persons residing together continually or at regular intervals, currently or in the past. The legislation would also extend the duration of orders of protection and authorize the issuance of lifetime orders of protection. Judges would be required to consider a defendantís history of violence, past record of orders of protection and disobedience of prior court orders, mandates or processes when determining applications for bail or release. The legislation could establish the crimes of first-degree domestic assault, a Class E felony, and second-degree domestic assault, a Class A misdemeanor.
- Mandatory jail time for repeat violators of orders of protection. This would require a minimum 30 days imprisonment for individuals who violate an order of protection more than once.
The task force plans a total of four forums across the state in 2004. For more information regarding the task force, please call Michael Crary in the Assembly Minority Office of Public Affairs at (518) 455-5073.