(re: “Biaggi: Blame Dinowitz for rape bill failure,” June 9)
Optics are paramount to a politician’s success. Bad optics alone can tank any position of power.
Regardless, every legislator needs to write bills and vote on them. What they support speaks to their voters.
But what happens if a lawmaker opposes a cause their constituents care about? They can write a bill that favors this cause, and then make sure no one votes on it.
For the fourth year in a row, a bill died in Albany. This bill could have closed an unfortunate sex crime loophole. Sadly, it is still not a crime in New York to have sex with someone too drunk to give consent. Regardless, many other states have recognized the criminality of this, and have passed laws to address this.
Referred to as voluntary intoxication, it is a growing trend in sex crime laws. As a result, defendants can no longer use the victim’s intoxication as a defense. But here in New York, the issue is dead yet again.
So what went wrong? The bill died despite having a huge advantage — the writer of the bill is Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, the chair of the chamber’s codes committee. This means he was the one who ultimately chose whether or not his bill was voted on.
Last month, he allowed his committee to vote on his bill, and it unanimously passed. However, before they voted, Dinowitz amended the language, making it no longer match the senate version. And when the senate and Assembly versions of a bill are not identical, the general body can never vote on them — even if it passes in committee. And this is exactly what happened.
While Dinowitz could have negotiated the language with the senate, he refused. Even though the senate was ready to play ball and requested a formal negotiation. What he did instead was post about this being his “priority bill.”
Even so, justice continues to be delayed on his watch.
Looking at the history of the bill, the picture gets murkier. The senate passed this bill three years in a row — almost unanimously each time.
In fact, only one senator ever opposed it. Former Gov. Andrew Cuomo supported this as a priority proposal in his 2020 State of the State. Most borough district attorneys publicly supported this bill.
But the Assembly apparently saw a looming threat.
I personally met several times with Assemblyman Dinowitz. I worked with a coalition of survivor groups for the past three years to lobby for this bill. Until last month, Dinowitz did not support his own bill enough to allow his committee to vote on it.
When we met, he and his team gave three very different reasons for opposing the bill. The first reason Dinowitz gave us was fear. He feared that innocent men might get wrongly convicted. This could happen either from buyer’s remorse or as a weaponized indictment.
We discussed the fact there is no evidence to support this. But the data did not overcome the fear. “What if…” outweighed what is.
The second concern he gave was consensus. Dinowitz felt he lacked consensus in his committee. In an interview with Chris Glorioso, Dinowitz stressed he needed committee consensus to allow a vote. The recent unanimous vote indicates he may have had it all along.
The third reason he gave was racism. He explained that Black men had historically been wrongly accused of rape, so he feared that communities of color would be unfairly targeted by racists.
Many states have laws covering the criminality of raping someone too drunk to say no or defend themselves. Passing these laws did not trigger any wave of false claims, racist indictments, or even an increase in arrests. But they did expand the availability of justice to those harmed.
In New York, we protect hypothetical men at the expense of thousands of real victims every month. Which forces the question — if a bill is stalled by its own writer, is there a chance Dinowitz wrote it purely for the good optics?
Surely no politician wants to look like they enable rapists. But who refuses to play ball on their own bill? What happens if a lawmaker intentionally writes a bill in order to block it?
In New York, it seems like they get exactly what they want — stalled progress. Additionally, they can go on to campaign for their primary with the good optics that they appear to care for survivor rights.
Meanwhile, Dinowitz’ youngest voters are going off to college, likely unaware of how unprotected they remain under the law — even though the rate of sexual assault in New York has more than doubled in the past 10 years.
But on the bright side, Dinowitz gets to look good for “trying.” Cheers.
The author is executive director of Community for a Cause, a Manhattan non-profit that describes itself as dedicated to protect and provide for those in need