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Supporters of the Adult Survivors Act grow frustrated with inaction in the New York state Assembly

Hans Pennink
New York state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie

Supporters of a measure that would allow adult survivors of sexual abuse and harassment to bring their alleged abusers to court singled out state Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, saying that he is holding up the bill.

The Adult Survivors Act would offer a one-year window of opportunity for adult victims of sexual harassment and abuse to file a civil lawsuit against an individual or an institution, even if the statute of limitations on the alleged crime has run out. It’s based on New York’s Child Victims Act, approved in 2019, that gave victims of child sexual abuse the right to have their day in court.

It has already been approved in the state Senate, but is stalled in the state Assembly. Advocates say the measure has over 70 supporters in the 150-member chamber, enough for the bill to pass in the Assembly Judiciary Committee, but it has not advanced in that committee or been placed on the floor for a vote.

Evelyn Yang, wife of former presidential candidate and New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang, is one of more than 100 women who have accused former Columbia University gynecologist Robert Hadden of sexual assault and abuse. Yang and others say if Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie wanted the measure to advance, it would.

“The burning question now is, why the inaction? It is outrageous,” Yang said. “And it begs the question, with the majority of cosponsors, what is keeping the gatekeepers in our assembly from bringing this legislation to a vote?”

Nationally known women’s rights lawyer Gloria Allred also appealed to the speaker to act.

“How many times do survivors have to relive their trauma at a press conference or in front of legislators before you take action?” Allred asked.

The Assembly has a history of sexual harassment allegations. Several women received settlements after they said former Assemblyman Vito Lopez sexually harassed them. Lopez was censured by the Assembly.

The women later joined with other staffers to form the Sexual Harassment Working Group. The other members include Elizabeth Crothers, who says she was raped by former Assembly counsel Michael Boxley. Boxley was later convicted of sexual misconduct after another staffer said he had raped her.

If the Adult Survivors Act were to become law, some of the former staffers who did not reach a settlement would be eligible to bring a civil suit against the Assembly or their former bosses, if they chose to do so.

The survivors say when they ask why the measure continues to be stalled, they are given the “runaround,” patronized and “gaslighted.”

Marissa Hoechstetter, also a victim of Dr. Hadden, said she recently visited the Albany offices of Assembly Judiciary Committee Chair Chuck Lavine, and her concerns were dismissed.

“It’s a really disrespectful response,” said Hoechstetter. “I’d say I felt talked down to.”

A spokesman for Lavine, Matt Cantor, said the Assemblymember “met personally with Ms. Hoechstetter for approximately a half an hour earlier in the week and candidly discussed the legislative process, urging her to continue her fight and urging her not to give up.”

Hoechstetter said those comments made her feel patronized.

“Honestly it’s bulls##t, to keep telling survivors to have to drag ourselves out to tell our stories, to grovel and beg and plead,” she said.

Allred, along with other advocates, said they’ve been told that some Assemblymembers continue to have concerns about the measure, but are not given the specific concerns. They are asking Speaker Heastie to give them the names of those members who have issues with the bill.

“Why is this bill being held hostage?” Allred asked. “Who are the dark forces or perhaps donors behind the scenes, lobbying, fearful, to have their names or their faces to be revealed.”

Allred said it’s time to “pull back the curtain” and make those names public.

In the past, Assembly spokespeople have said that some members have concerns and want more time to examine the bill. In 2021, after the measure failed to come to the floor for a vote, Assembly Majority Leader Crystal People-Stokes said the chamber had already set up new policies to deal with sexual harassment, including the implementation of a new working group on the issue, and wanted to see how those changes worked out before taking any further action.

A spokesman for Heastie, Mike Whyland, did not address the substance of the advocates’ news conference, saying only that “we discuss all issues with our members.”

Whyland did not rule in or rule out a vote on the Adult Survivors Act would be held before the session is scheduled to end on June 2.

Governor Kathy Hochul has said if both houses of the Legislature pass the bill, she will sign it into law.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.