New York state senators voted to pass 10 bills Tuesday to embolden protections for survivors of domestic and sexual violence in wake of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
The legislation package includes a measure to require housing authorities to prioritize survivors of domestic abuse with the same weight as low-income and minority groups and other underprivileged communities if they are placed on a housing waiting list.
"We do value victims, we value survivors," sponsor Sen. Jamaal Bailey said. "We know about the crunch on housing, we know about how critically important housing is and how we declare it to be a human right. If you've been a victim of domestic violence... that should be the lest of your concerns to have stable and safe housing."
Chair of the Senate Crime Victims, Crime and Correction Committee Sen. Julia Salazar sponsored one of the measures to more clearly define the term "welfare" and expand access to victim compensation and reimbursement for personal property. Current state law assesses victim compensation for property lost or damaged as a result of a crime based on the item's necessity for the person's welfare.
"Because that is not clearly defined in the law right now, that can lead to confusion, people being reluctant to accessing the resources they are entitled to and deserve, and also, sometimes people just not being able to move on with their lives after being the victim of a crime," Salazar said. "It's a simple change to the law to clearly define what constitutes welfare for a victim and will make victim compensation more accessible to people rather than less."
Sen. Nathalia Fernández's bill included in the group will allow prosecutors to access orders of protection sealed in prior domestic violence cases in instances of a new offense.
"This is very sensitive, but vital, collection of bills the entire conference is proud to bring to the floor today," Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins said in the Capitol. "Survivors of domestic and sexual violence occupy a particularly vulnerable space and far too often, while trying to remove themselves from a dangerous situation, they face even more challenges while they're attempting to access life-saving resources. We know that survivors deserve every resource and protection at their disposal on the road to recovery."
Senators passed seven other bills included in the legislation package to improve justice and accountability for survivors:
Removal of Time Period for Persisent Sexual Abuse Definition: This bill, S1951, sponsored by Sen. Brad Hoylman-Sigal removes the ten year lookback period in relation to being defined as a person who has committed persistent sexual abuse.
Requirements for ERPO Reports: This bill, S3340, sponsored by Sen. Shelley B. Mayer requires extreme risk protection orders to be reported to the statewide computerized registry of orders of protection and certain warrants of arrest.
Expanded Eligibility for Victim Compensation Funds: This bill, S214-A, sponsored by Sen. Zellnor Myrie, expands eligibility for victims and survivors of crime to access victim compensation funds by removing the mandatory law enforcement reporting requirement, providing alternative forms of evidence that would show that a qualifying crime was committed and the confidentiality of certain records.
Enacting the New York State Phoenix Act: This bill, S4686, sponsored by Sen. Kevin Parker enacts the "New York State Phoenix Act," which extends the statute of limitations for felony family offenses to ten years and misdemeanor family offenses to five years.
Victims’ Rights Disclosures: This bill, S5502, sponsored by Sen. Jessica Scarcella-Spanton would provide additional rights to crime victims and require the court or district attorney, either at sentencing or at the earliest time possible, to provide the victims of said crime with an informational sheet explaining their rights.
- Defining Victims of Unlawful Image Dissemination:This bill, S3236, sponsored by Sen. Luis Sepúlveda would add to the definition of a victim of a sexual offense by including a victim of unlawful dissemination or publication of an intimate image.
- Enacting Emma’s Law: This bill, S1901, sponsored by Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky enacts Emma's Law, providing for victim statements to be read at the sentencing of a defendant for a misdemeanor.
Stewart-Cousins is hopeful state assemblymembers will consider and pass the legislation before the end of session.
The final $229 billion 2023-24 budget included $13 million for state victim and witness assistance, $5 million in grants for assistance to survivors and victims of domestic violence and $4.5 million for rape crisis centers.