Sponsor of the bill Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, center, ask a question during a public hearing on sexual harassment in the workplace held in February in Albany. Sponsor of the bill Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, center, asks a question during a public hearing on sexual harassment in the workplace held in Albany in February. Photo: Hans Pennink/AP

Gov. Andrew Cuomo renewed his push Wednesday for the New York State Legislature to eliminate the statute of limitations for second- and third-degree rape charges, which currently requires prosecutors to bring charges against alleged assailants within five years.

Lawmakers have been reluctant this year to move legislation that would do so, despite no public opposition among their colleagues to the measure becoming law.

“Certainly five years is an abject dereliction of justice,” Cuomo said.

He first proposed eliminating the statute of limitations for rape in this year’s executive budget, but the measure fell out of the final spending plan through negotiations with the Legislature.

His version of the bill is narrower than one that’s gained momentum in the Legislature. That bill, sponsored by State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi, D-Westchester, would eliminate the statute of limitations for rape in the second and third degree, but would also do so for criminal sexual acts in the second and third degree.

Cuomo’s version would only eliminate the statute of limitations for second- and third-degree rape charges. When asked about the status of the legislation Wednesday, Biaggi said she didn’t want to take anything out of her bill in order to move it to the floor.

“We’re holding the line,” Biaggi said.

She said the same of legislation she sponsors with Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas, D-Queens, that would lower the threshold at which individuals could be found to have committed sexual harassment against someone else in the workplace. Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, D-Westchester, has previously said the Senate will pass that bill.

Cuomo, as he’s done in recent days on other issues, criticized lawmakers Wednesday for not already taking up legislation on both issues, as this year’s legislative sessions grows closer to its scheduled conclusion next week.

“These changes have to be made now. No procrastination, the Legislature is here, the truth is out. This is the moment for change. The legal changes are indisputable,” Cuomo said. “It has to be done now and it has to be done in New York.”

It’s unclear if either measure has the momentum among Democrats who control the Legislature to become law this year. Biaggi said she’s heard opposition to eliminating the statute of limitations for rape completely, but disagrees with those who have challenged her proposal.

“There’s opposition to it,” Biaggi said. “The statute of limitations for rape, I think is a little harder, but I’m still going to push for the full elimination of it.”

The New York State Defenders Association, an organization representing the state’s public defenders, has historically been opposed to eliminating the statute of limitations for rape in the second and third degree, according to its executive director. A request for comment sent to the Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers was not immediately returned.

The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York, the organization representing the state’s prosecutors, does not have a position on the measure.

Roberta Kaplan, founding partner at Kaplan Hecker & Fink, was with Cuomo on Wednesday to call on lawmakers to address both issues. She said that eliminating the statute of limitations for cases of rape, regardless of the degree, would allow more victims to pursue criminal chargers against their alleged assailants.

“We should not have the same statute of limitations for rape as Alabama,” Kaplan said. “That’s an embarrassment. The Legislature should act and they should get justice for the many, many women that this happens to.”

Kaplan was also with Cuomo to call for the Legislature to lower the standard at which victims of sexual harassment can pursue claims against their alleged harassers.

New York currently has a “severe or pervasive” standard for sexual harassment, meaning that the alleged behavior has to be one of the two to merit litigation. Advocates have argued that the standard holds those cases to a threshold that’s, sometimes, impossible to meet, even if a victim feels the behavior is inappropriate or predatory.

State law also currently allows what’s called the Faragher-Ellerth defense, which is commonly used by employers to dismiss claims of sexual harassment.

The defense was created from two different U.S. Supreme Court decisions. Those rulings found an employer is not liable for sexual harassment if it can show the employee didn’t follow the employer’s policy for addressing inappropriate behavior, take the directed steps during an investigation, or comply with other standards established by that procedure.

While Cuomo has publicly offered support for eliminating the “severe or pervasive” standard, he has not taken a position on eliminating the Faragher-Ellerth defense. When asked about the latter measure Wednesday, Cuomo’s counsel said they were still reviewing the bill.

“We’re engaged in conversations with the Legislature on those pieces of legislation,” said Alphonso David, counsel to the governor.

Lawmakers have until next Wednesday to act on those issues before this year’s legislative session is scheduled to end.

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