It is with great pride that I begin a new term in the Assembly. I am honored by your confidence in me and pledge to continue to work during the coming term—as I have over the past decade—in the best interests of our communities, our city and our state.
New York faces many challenges over the months to come as the Legislature convenes in the midst of the most severe economic climate the state and nation have experienced in generations. There will be many legislative issues before us during the months ahead and I want to hear your views about some of the most important.
Please take the opportunity to tell me what you think about four important topics by answering the survey questions on the back page of this newsletter. I look forward to hearing from you.
Member of Assembly
The new session of the Assembly now underway promises to be the most challenging one in decades. Against the backdrop of a state budget deficit that Governor Paterson has estimated could be $15 billion this year, we also face tough decisions about several major issues, including new permanent funding for mass transit and the future of the New York City public schools.
These subjects are certain to be hotly debated and so are the choices we must make among competing and equally worthy state programs that cannot all be funded at recent levels as we meet the requirement to produce a balanced budget.
As the Legislature proceeds to examine the Governor’s proposed budget and debate about what to eliminate, reduce or defer, all of us are deeply aware of the need to weigh the impact of cuts on the people and communities we represent. Sacrifices must be made to ensure the state can live within its income, but we must apply wisdom and compassion as we ask for them.
As we look at programs, projects and initiatives, my highest priority will be to preserve—perhaps even expand—activities that will save jobs, advance economic development and ensure the continuation of vital programs for families, seniors and youth in the 30th Assembly District.
As we deal with the economic challenges that confront New York this year, there are new, positive developments that give us hope. A new national administration in Washington will bring a different and hopeful perspective to the problems of our state and its people.
In Albany we have a new Governor who has already acted in a responsible way to jump-start the budget process so we can address the urgent, hard choices in a timely way. Another Albany development this year, the change in leadership in the State Senate, also promises that we will pursue the challenges in a thoughtful and positive manner.
These developments give us partners in government at every level who we can work with to meet the enormous challenges we face as we act responsibly and with compassion to address the urgent and most fundamental needs of the people of Queens and all New Yorkers.
Sign Up for Child Obesity Talk
Parents who are concerned about the childhood obesity crisis in New York are invited to attend a workshop in my office to learn more about simple steps they can take to keep their family healthy. Guest speaker will be Nancy Cooperman of the Community Health Office of the North Shore Long Island Jewish Health System. The program will take place on Thursday, March 26, 7:00 p.m. in my District Office, 55-19 69th Street, Maspeth. To attend, please make a reservation by calling 718-651-3185. Seating is limited.
Woodside, Maspeth Residents Get Their
$$$ Back from State as comptroller visits
Assemblywoman Margaret Markey brought the NYS Comptroller’s office to Woodside and Maspeth last fall to help residents find out if the state was holding their money in an Unclaimed Funds account. State records show that the Comptroller is holding some $30 million in unclaimed funds due to residents of the 30th Assembly District. Working from a portable office at the Woodside Senior Center and Self Help Senior Center in Maspeth, the Comptroller’s office researched their names and filed applications for several dozen residents who learned they were due money. If you would like to know whether you are owed money, you can request information by clicking on the Unclaimed Funds tab on the State Comptroller’s website at: www.osc.state.ny.us.
Looking for Masonry Apprentices
Assemblywoman Markey got a lesson in bricklaying when she visited the Apprenticeship Training Program and Facility created by the International Union of Bricklayers & Allied Craftworkers, at BAC Local Union #1 in Long Island City. Information about how to be part of the program that will recruit and train new masonry workers may be obtained by calling 718-706-9294.
Help With Heat Bills
I am pleased to report that New York State is expanding its Home Energy Assistance Program (HEAP) to help additional families meet their home heating needs this winter. These benefits are particularly important during tough economic times like these. Thanks to new federal funding of $550 million, New York households that currently receive HEAP benefits will get an extra $100 this year, increasing the maximum regular HEAP benefit for recipients that pay directly for heat to $900. For information about HEAP and how to apply, call 1-800-342-3009.
Sex crimes, particularly those committed against children, are among the most heinous and deeply disturbing in our society. They leave life-long scars and have multiple victims. As awareness has increased about the terrible human tragedy at the root of this issue, society has also become aware of how important it is for victims of sexual assault to have the opportunity to get justice for the wrongs done to them.
In New York State that is difficult right now because of the current statute of limitations law. I have introduced legislation in the New York State Assembly to change that and give abuse victims the opportunity to get their day in court when my proposed “Child Victims’ Act of New York” is adopted.
Under current law, the criminal statute of limitations in child sexual abuse cases when the crime is not reported to law enforcement is not applied until the victim reaches age 18. My bill would extend that age to 28 by adding five years to the statute, with additional provisions for civil actions, thereby extending the threshold age to 28. My bill also provides a one-time one year “window” for victims of any age to seek civil damages in past instances of child sexual abuse.
Several studies have found that one in five children in the United States are sexually abused, at least 20 percent of boys and 25 percent of girls, the majority by family or family acquaintances or other people they trust and respect.
Far too many of these crimes go unreported or are not reported for many years. Then, when victims finally and courageously do speak up, many of them are denied justice because arbitrary statutes of limitations prohibit them from seeking the legal recourse they are due.
The proposed Child Victims’ Act of New York and the “window” it provides will also be more effective in stopping molesters from continuing their abuse and assaulting new victims. The U.S. Justice Department estimates that only about 10 percent of sexual predators are ever identified. This law will allow victims to expose their perpetrators and those who enabled them.
Some have argued that the proposed Child Victims’ Act of New York might put an unfair burden on agencies, institutions and organizations who must address events that happened decades ago. This is not correct. No organization or agency would be held liable under the law unless it was aware of an employee who was a predator and failed to take action. It has also been argued that this proposed law will result in an avalanche of lawsuits. In other states where similar legislation with a “window” is law, including California, a state even larger than New York, the result was 565 cases. But more important, the result was to expose pedophiles who were not previously identified.
The Child Victims’ Act of New York was adopted by the NY State Assembly in 2006, 2007 and 2008, but the State Senate failed to take any action. This year, with the support of the new Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Smith, I expect a different outcome. I have just re-introduced the bill in the new session of the Legislature, A.2596, and an identical bill to mine has been introduced in the State Senate.
My legislation has won the endorsement of 12 current District Attorneys from around the state as well as the national and state Associations of District Attorneys, with other support coming from the NY State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, the Crime Victims Bar Association and a number of grassroots organizations, including Voice of the Faithful and SNAP.
At present, New York State law enables predators to avoid the consequences of their crimes. It permits abusers to continue their predatory actions and assault new victims. We have a responsibility to past and future generations of children to ensure that predators are identified, stopped and punished. This legislation helps do that more effectively.
I have been joined by 86 other members of the Assembly in sponsoring a resolution to designate February as Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Month in New York State. The declaration helps put a spotlight on my legislation, A.2596, The Child Victims’ Act of New York, which has received Assembly approval in 2005, 2006 and 2007, and 2008 and will soon be approved in the current session. A companion bill has been introduced in the State Senate.
A portion of the resolution reads, “By calling attention to the serious and significant problem of child sexual abuse, the observation of Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Month exemplifies a worthy commitment to the children of New York State, encourages improvement in the quality and availability of pertinent programs, laws and services, and provides an opportunity to increase awareness about all aspects of this important matter.”
One in five children in America is a victim of childhood sexual abuse, most by family or family acquaintances or other people they trust and respect. The Child Victims’ Act of New York will provide victims of abuse greater opportunity to have their day in court and will ensure that sexual predators are identified, stopped and punished.
1. Current law enables predators to avoid the consequences
of their crimes.
Our state law currently enables predators to avoid the consequences of their crimes. Most victims of child sexual abuse are not able to report their abuse until they are well into adulthood. Predators now have an incentive to intimidate their victims, threaten witnesses, destroy evidence and “run out the clock” on their crimes to take advantage of the arbitrary and archaic statutes of limitations. Many predators still live and work in the State of New York and their neighbors and employers will learn about their history of abusing children. This bill will stop the predators as soon as the first victims are able to come forward.
2. The New York Child Victims’ Act gives extra time for those
who are abused to come forward.
The Child Victims’ Act of New York helps protect the vulnerable, exposes predators and heals victims by extending the statute of limitations for victims of child sexual abuse until the victim reaches the age of 28. It also creates a one-year “window” of time during which adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse can sue the person who abused them as well as anyone who protected or covered for the predator, even if their previous statute of limitations has already expired.
3. This one-year “window” makes it possible to expose predators
who may still be active abusers. The U.S. Department of Justice says that only 10% of predators
are ever exposed.
The “window” in my bill targets the other 90%. The majority of child victims aren’t able to understand or report their abuse before they are well into adulthood. By that time the statutes of limitations have expired for the vast majority of victims. The window will allow many victims to expose their perpetrator, those who enabled him or her and give the victims justice that has been denied. We want to correct New York law to reflect the understandings of mental health professionals and bring the law up to the mental health standards of 2008.
4. This bill does not unfairly target agencies, institutions and
organizations as liable for events that happened decades ago.
If the responsible organization did not have notice, (was not aware that the employee had previously molested a child, or had some type of information that would have raised concerns that he or she might abuse a child) the agency or organization cannot be held liable. An institution may be held liable only if they knew the predator had a history and did not take appropriate action. Even in cases where the perpetrator of abuse has died, the victims are still suffering and it is important that the non-profit organization, church or individual who knowingly hired the perpetrator be held accountable for its wrongdoing.
5. This bill will not lead to false allegations and swamp the
courts. False allegations are extremely rare.
Defense lawyer Patrick Schlitz who has represented more than 500 priests accused of abuse told the New York Times that less than ten of those were ‘false allegations.’ That is less than 2%. In California, the nation’s largest state, where a similar “window” law was enacted the statewide result was less than 900 cases.
6. This bill does not unfairly target the Catholic Church.
Catholics of today have long been paying for the past mistakes of church leaders in mishandling
cases of abuse.
The legal vulnerability and financial burden upon Catholic dioceses across the country has prompted some to ask why the church of today must pay for mistakes that may have been made in the past. The truth is that faithful Catholics have been shouldering costs relating to abuse for decades, unknowingly paying for defense lawyers, public relations firms, secret settlements and insurance policies to cover abuse cases. Even despite these once-secret costs and the new settlements we read about today, there is no independent evidence that any diocese actually faces bankruptcy, despite claims to the contrary.
7. This bill will also help abuse victims who have claims against
public sector agencies.
While the statute of limitations affected by this bill applies to non-public sector organizations and institutions, it will also help abuse victims who have claims against units of municipal or county government, including school districts. Current state law requires a victim to file a “notice of claim” against a public agency within 90 days of an incident and a judge to give permission for the suit to proceed. At the discretion of the court, a “late notice of claim” may also be received and approved for a period of much as a year after the 90 days, particularly when there are extenuating circumstances such as prior knowledge by the agency about the incident involved in the claim. We believe a one-year “window” provision for old claims in this bill will give abuse victims the justification that is needed for a judge to accept their late notice of claim.
1. Public School Governance
The Issue: Responsibility for management of the NYC public school system was transferred to the city’s Mayor five years ago and that authority expires this year. This has included far-reaching city-wide power to set educational standards, shape curriculum and create and manage construction of school facilities as well as set performance standards for teachers and supervisors.
The Choices: Please mark your views about what course of action the Legislature should take:
Do not renewal Mayoral authority
Renew the existing Mayoral authority with no changes
Renew Mayoral authority with changes requiring:
better input on educational standards and policies
more input on student curriculum
improved access to information about management of their local school
more responsive school facility planning and construction process
better opportunity to influence appointment of principals and other school supervisors
2. Transit Funding
The Issue: Transit ridership is increasing, but the MTA’s operating budget for the coming year has a deficit of some $1.2 billion. A continuing budget gap is predicted as the economic downturn decreases tax revenues and capital budget needs to improve stations, purchase new buses and subway cars over the next five years are estimated at $30 billion. A blue-ribbon commission appointed by Governor David Paterson and chaired by former MTA Chair Richard Ravich has proposed a number of avenues for increasing MTA revenues that will be considered by the Legislature.
The Choices: Please check which solution you prefer for raising funding for the bus and subway systems:
Impose a regional payroll tax on employers
Increase auto registration fee
Put tolls on the East River bridges
Increase the transit fare
Ask city and state governments to cover annual deficit
Require MTA to operate within its revenue by reducing service
3. State Budget Alternatives
The Issue: The financial crisis for state government is more critical than it has been in generations as the nation faces the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression. As the Legislature works with the Governor over the coming months to allocate increasingly scarce resources, we will be faced with tough choices and sacrifices in balancing the state budget for the coming year as we cope with the reality of diminished resources.
The Choices: Please mark the two areas of funding that are most important to you and our Queens communities:
Education and schools
Health care and prescription drug
Economic development & jobs
Parks and recreation
Science and technology research
Public safety and security
4. Gay Marriage
The Issue: With the transition of leadership in the State Senate, the Legislature may look with increased seriousness at the subject of legislation that would authorize same sex marriages in New York State.
The Choices: Please check one:
Authorize same-sex marriages
Expand domestic partnership benefits
Make no changes in existing laws