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TIMES EDITORIAL: Children Deserve Justice

The Children Deserve Justice

There has been no shortage of child sex abuse scandals during the legislative session that is going into its final week in Albany — the Penn State case and the cover-up trial of Msgr. William Lynn in Pennsylvania and, closer to home, the abuse allegations at Syracuse University and the private Horace Mann School in New York. That makes it all the worse that lawmakers have done little to fix New York’s weak laws for protecting children from sexual predators and providing victims with justice.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo could have done a lot more to lead the way. On Friday, he appeared to reach agreement with the State Assembly and the Senate on a new measure to require coaches in sports programs at universities in New York to report child sex abuse both internally and to law enforcement officials, beginning to fill a glaring reporting gap in state law.

All the more disappointing, then, is that Mr. Cuomo has declined to get behind a more urgent and politically challenging step: expanding New York’s egregiously short statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases, which tilts the legal playing field against accountability, fairness and public safety.

Recent highly visible allegations of sex abuse are a reminder that victims can easily be many years into adulthood before they are ready psychologically and emotionally to talk about what was done to them. This is especially true when they are up against powerful institutions — like the Roman Catholic Church or Penn State — bent on keeping secrets buried.

Faced with this reality, many states have liberally extended the age for filing civil lawsuits. New Jersey is now considering completely eliminating its statute of limitations on the civil side. In Pennsylvania, the age limit for filing child sex abuse cases is 30 for civil cases and 50 for criminal cases.

In New York, Margaret Markey, a Democratic assemblywoman from Queens, has proposed a measure that would give an accuser 10 years after turning 18 to make a claim instead of the current five years. No less important, it would create a one-year window for victims to file previously barred civil claims, similar to filing windows enacted by California, Delaware and, just two months ago, by Hawaii.

Earlier versions of the Markey bill have passed the Democratic-led Assembly several times. By refusing to rise above intense lobbying by Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Orthodox Jewish officials and fight for Ms. Markey’s changes or offer a strong bill of his own, Mr. Cuomo has played it politically safe.

The final days of the session may be too late for the governor to force lawmakers in the Assembly and the Senate to take a vote on the Markey bill and let voters know where they stand. But he should try. Even if the bill should lose in the Senate, as it likely would, it would raise the issue’s visibility and set the stage for a sustained campaign to pass it next year.

New York will continue to lag in protecting children until it brings the statute of limitations into line with the reality of late uncovering of child sex abuse.