State Budget New York

Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, speaks to members of the New York Assembly after passing a state budget during a Legislative session at the state Capitol April 7 in Albany.

Victims of sexual crimes say they are disappointed with the state Assembly for bottling up a measure that would extend the time for survivors to bring civil claims for past abuse.

The same legislation, known as the Adult Survivors Act, was unanimously approved by the state Senate Thursday.

Advocates for the measure, the Sexual Harassment Working Group, complained in a letter to Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-the Bronx, and Assemblyman Charles Lavine, D-Long Island, that the Assembly was stalling to provide cover for Gov. Andrew Cuomo at a time when the state’s top official is faces multiple investigations.

CUOMO ALLEGATIONS

Cuomo has denied any wrongdoing. Responding to allegations of sexual harassment, he has said he apologized if he has made any women feel uncomfortable. Lavine is heading the committee that will recommend whether the Assembly should commence impeachment proceedings against the 63-year-old governor.

“The Assembly should be embarrassed,” said Elizabeth Crothers, a former Assembly staffer who alleges she was raped in 2001 by a top aide at the time to then Speaker Sheldon Silver. Silver is now serving a federal prison sentence for an unrelated corruption conviction.

The legislation would open a one-year look back window for individuals pursuing civil claims in connection with abuse that took place after they reached 18 years old. The measure resembles an already enacted law allowing child victims more time to bring such lawsuits.

BLOCK, DELAY TACTICS

Aides to Heastie did not respond to requests for comment.

The advocates said in a letter to Heastie: “We are very familiar with the patterns of this chamber to block, delay, and run out the clock on survivors and the legislation that would protect them as a means of providing cover for serial abusers.”

After the measure passed the Senate, Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-Manhattan, noted it would benefit the victims of “serial sexual assaulters” such as imprisoned movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, who died

Supporters of the measure explained many sexual assault victims may avoid disclosing what happened to them for decades. “They may feel silenced, powerless, ashamed or struggle with coming to terms with the fact that such a heinous act was committed against them,” said Selena Bennett-Chambers, director of public policy at the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

RECORDS LAW

Those championing stronger protections for victims of sexual harassment are also advocating for passage of a measure that would outlaw the release of personnel records in an effort to retaliate against persons making complaints of workplace harassment..

A bill that would do just that passed the Senate Thursday, but faces an uncertain fate in the Assembly. Cuomo has confirmed his staff released files on a former state official, Lindsey Boylan, after she alleged the governor sexually harassed her while she worked at Empire State Development, a state authority. She left the administration in 2018 and is now a candidate for Manhattan borough president.

A Cuomo spokeswoman has said Boylan’s allegations are false.

IMPEACHMENT

The 2021 legislative session is slated to conclude next week.

It remains unclear whether the Assembly impeachment inquiry relating to Cuomo will continue through the summer.

The only impeachment of a New York governor came in 1913 when William Sulzer was forced out of office following a scandal involving campaign funds. Lavine has been overseeing the inquiry since March.

The Assembly Democratic conference, led by Heastie, will have the ultimate say over Cuomo’s fate. The 150-member chamber includes 107 Democrats.

Joe Mahoney covers the New York Statehouse for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at jmahoney@cnhinews.com

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