LETTERS TO THE EDITOR

Words really do matter when it comes to the legislature

Posted

To the editor:

(re: “Biaggi: Blame Dinowitz for rape bill failure,” June 9)

Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz: please don’t mislead voters!

Your latest campaign mailer claims that you “stood up for victims of sexual assault” and that you are “working hard to … close loopholes to protect victims of sexual assault.” In fact, your recent actions demonstrate that you and your colleagues protect the interests of criminal defense lawyers, not those of victims of sexual assault.

At the end of last year’s legislative session, Dinowitz blocked a bill sponsored by state Sen. Alessandra Biaggi — which he had sponsored in the Assembly — that would have made it a crime to have sex with someone who was too intoxicated to grant consent. When I asked him whether a television news story about him blocking the bill was accurate, he replied: 

“Don’t be ridiculous. The story is a hit piece pushed by a certain elected official. The senate and Assembly bills don’t match anyway. Believe it or not, I just don’t snap my fingers and get a bill passed. And there is a lot of opposition from the defense bar.”

My understanding is that at the end of last year’s session, Dinowitz changed a few words in the Assembly version of the bill so that the bill didn’t “match” the senate version — which ensured that the bill could not be enacted into law.

This year, rather than meeting with Sen. Biaggi to iron out the language, Dinowitz pushed through the codes committee a watered-down version of Biaggi’s bill, which would actually make it more difficult to prosecute these sexual assaults. When I expressed concern about the amended language, his communications director responded:

“The language of this bill was amended to reflect input from stakeholders including public defenders, and we are engaged in ongoing conversations with various interested groups to continue working to get this bill in a place where it can be passed into law.

“Assemblyman Dinowitz remains open to further modifications to the language, including a restoration of the original language of the bill. But please understand that the legislative process is not dictatorial. The reason we have amended language in the first place is because concerns were raised by other members of the Assembly as well as various advocates, and so any further changes would also have to be able to retain and/or garner majority support.”

When I asked about the “concerns” of other Assembly members, his communications director responded:

“Without speaking on behalf of anybody else, I can tell you that the primary concern from public defenders and some colleagues seems to be around circumstances where consent is ambiguous. There appear to be deeply held reservations about creating a system where someone accused of sexual assault with alcohol or drugs involved would be treated as guilty until proven innocent. We obviously do not hold those concerns ourselves, but that is why there has been ongoing discussion about the language of this legislation.”

Although I wrote Dinowitz that “ambiguity as to the circumstances of an alleged crime is why we have our criminal justice apparatus, so that facts can be determined” and assured his staffer that the language of the senate bill does not shift the burden of proof to the defendant, I heard nothing further from Dinowitz or his staff concerning the bill.

Further, despite his staffer’s statement that “we are engaged in ongoing conversations with various interested groups to continue working to get this bill in a place where it can be passed into law,” when Biaggi requested to meet with Dinowitz or his staff to negotiate the language of the bill, I understand that he refused to meet with her, and she was informed that it was either the Assembly version or nothing.

Even if the concerns of Dinowitz’s Assembly colleagues were valid — and they are not — why wouldn’t Dinowitz want to negotiate the language rather than dis his Bronx colleague?

This pettiness is unbecoming an elected official, and hurts his constituents.

At the end of the legislative session, Biaggi’s bill — which contained the “gold standard” legislative language adopted by 14 other states — was not adopted.   

Survivors of these types of sexual assaults deserve a bill worthy of their courage to come forward. They deserve an Assembly member who doesn’t cave to criminal defense lawyers. And they deserve an Assembly member who doesn’t mail misleading material to voters.

Dinowitz’s primary election opponent, Jessica Altagracia Woolford — herself a sexual assault survivor — is a better choice in the June 28 Democratic primary election.

Sue Ellen Dodell

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