Three years after an I-Team investigation prompted legislation to reform New York’s criminal rape statute, the bill is being blocked from a vote — by its own co-sponsor, Assembly Member Jeffrey Dinowitz.
Though the Bronx Democrat chairs the state’s powerful Codes Committee and has the discretion to bring his own bill to a vote, Dinowitz has declined to do so for months.
The inaction has frustrated advocates for sex assault survivors, including Dinowitz’s co-sponsor in the New York State Senate, Alessandra Biaggi.
“I can’t bring it to a vote in the Assembly, I’m in the Senate,” said Biaggi, who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester.
Biaggi, a sexual abuse survivor herself, was first to draft the legislation in 2019, after she saw an I-Team report that uncovered a letter from the Manhattan DA, insisting prosecutors cannot bring sex crime charges when victims become voluntarily intoxicated, even if a reasonable person would consider the victim to be incapacitated. The rape reform bill was intended to close what’s become known as the “voluntary intoxication loophole.”
“By closing this loophole we can make very clear that an individual’s decision to voluntarily drink alcohol or consume drugs is not an invitation for sexual assault,” Biaggi said.
Dinowitz told the I-Team he also wants the legislation to pass, but he is holding it back in the Assembly in order to build consensus.
“I don’t snap my fingers and suddenly a bill is passed. It takes a lot of work to convince everybody to put the bill on the agenda,” he said.
Dinowitz also pointed out that a recent revision to the Senate version of the bill means the two houses need time to reconcile the legislative language. And there is only one day left in the legislative calendar.
“If a bill is amended it has to age for three days. That’s part of the problem we’re up against right now,”
But critics say Dinowitz has had been plenty of time to tweak the bill’s language, and they question whether he has done enough to build the support he’s seeking. When asked whether he knows which Assembly Members support or oppose his own legislation, it he admitted he’s not sure.
“No, I don’t know. I haven’t polled members,” Dinowitz said.
Assembly Member Emily Gallagher (D-Brooklyn), also a sexual assault survivor, said she never heard from Dinowitz about the rape reform.
“All I can say is that I learned about this bill from Senator Biaggi. I had not heard about it in the Assembly at all,” Gallagher said.
As the current legislative session draws to a close, supporters of the rape reform bill are starting to shift their hopes to next year. But Dinowitz isn’t pledging to move the bill even then. And he expressed frustration with critics who question his intentions
“I will not commit to anything. Why would I want to negotiate a bill on Channel 4,” he said. “I want my bill to become law, believe me. But if people are looking to criticize people, especially supporters, I find that a very odd thing to do.”