Editorial: Phillips’ taxpayer-funded disinformation

The Island Now

The dishonesty of the mailer state Sen. Elaine Phillips recently sent to constituents claiming she was “Standing Up for Child Sex Abuse Victims” was bad enough.

But making taxpayers pay for what was clearly a piece of campaign literature aimed at addressing a large political liability in her District 7 re-election race against Town Councilwoman Anna Kaplan makes the mailer that much worse.

Let’s start with the facts.

The state of New York has a disgracefully short statute of limitations to file criminal and civil charges for sexual abuse – until age 23 to file criminal charges for offenses that don’t include the top felony rape charges, and until age 21 to file civil claims against institutions.

The result has been to allow child sexual predators go free and to deny their victims justice.

The solution to this outrage has been before the state Legislature for more than a decade in the form of the Child Victims Act.

The legislation would extend the statute of limitations to age 50 in civil cases, and to age 28 in criminal cases. It would also establish a one-year window in which anyone would be permitted to bring a lawsuit, even if the statute of limitations had expired.

The bill enjoys widespread support by the public and in Albany. The Assembly has voted five times in favor of the legislation, the last time by a vote of 139-7.

But Republicans in the state Senate have not even allowed the legislation to come to a vote.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave supporters of the legislation a large boost earlier this year when he included the Child Victims Act in his proposed 2018 state budget.

Phillips said during the budget deliberations she agreed 23 was too young to limit victims seeking to file criminal charges.  But she opposed the bill.

She said she needed more time to decide what to do. She wanted more time to assemble experts to look at the problem.

Phillips’ claim to standing up for victims of sexual abuse lies in legislation proposed by Republican legislators after many took political heat for the removal of the Child Victims Act from the final state budget.

In her mailer, Phillips said the Republican legislation, called the Child Victims Reconciliation and Compensation Fund, would allow every victim to seek compensation from a $300 million fund “that’s not subsidized with taxpayer dollars.”

That sounds like a neat magic trick. Too bad it’s not really true.

Under the bill, the state would get the $300 million from the more than $700 million in asset forfeiture funds controlled by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance Jr.’s office.

That sounds like public money to us.

State Sen. Brad Hoylman, the Manhattan Democratic sponsor of the Child Victims Act, said the money would be taken from other worthy criminal justice programs like the purchase of rape test kits and cameras for public housing.

Hoylman also noted the money would come at the expense of protecting “child sexual abusers and institutions who harbor them.”

Hoylman’s comments referred to the fact that the legislation removes civil liability from the guilty.

This flies in the face of the entire concept of civil law in which those who do wrong have to pay – a strong incentive for both institutions and people not to do wrong.

Why the special treatment for child sexual abusers and the institutions that harbor them?

In her mailer, Phillips justifies the fund by saying “more than 80 percent of child sex abuse cases involve a family member or friend – not the kind of deep-pocketed institutions you read about in the news.”

This raises several questions.

For one, why would you want to give family members or friends who raped children a free pass? And no one else.

And how do Phillips and her Republican colleagues know how many cases involve a family member or friend when the law doesn’t allow victims to report the crime after they are 23?

Opponents of the bill passed by the Assembly, which include the Catholic Church, Orthodox Jewish groups and the Boy Scouts of America, have consistently cited concerns with the one-year window in which victims could file claims regardless of how long ago the assault against them took place.

They say the window would cause a wave of claims that could drive churches, schools and hospitals into bankruptcy.

To its credit, the legislation sponsored by Phillips would allow all victims to file claims.

But this raises another question: whether the $300 million is going to be enough.

It is true that many states that have provided a one-year window have not seen a flood of legal actions.

But take a look at the news for the past week.

On Saturday, Pope Francis accepted the resignation of Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, from the College of Cardinals after allegations that the cardinal sexually abused minors and adult seminarians over the course of decades.

What happens when the $300 million is used up?

None of our questions are addressed in the Phillips mailer paid for by taxpayers.

That appears to be another unpunished crime – even it’s not illegal.


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