NewsLocal News


Michigan House approves Nassar-inspired legislation

Posted at 2:14 PM, May 25, 2018

More than two dozen proposed laws sparked by the sexual abuse scandal involving Larry Nassar sailed through the Michigan House on Thursday, including bills that would grant childhood sex assault victims more time to sue and require athletic trainers to report suspected abuse.

Gov. Rick Snyder supports the 27-bill bipartisan package, which received some criticism for enabling people abused by the former sports doctor to retroactively seek damages through the courts but not other victims of sexual abuse. Others wanted coaches to be added to Michigan's list of people mandated to report suspected abuse.

Still, the legislation won wide support in the wake of hundreds of girls and women — including Olympic gymnasts — accusing Nassar of molesting them under the guide of medical treatment, including while he worked for Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians. Nassar was sentenced to prison this year after pleading guilty to sexual assaults and possessing child pornography.

"We are going to be there to protect our children, to protect our survivors," said Rep. Klint Kesto, a Republican who shepherded the bills through the House.

Some measures could win final Senate approval next week, while others may be held depending on what Senate leaders decide.

One bill would give victims of childhood sexual abuse a 90-day window from when the law takes effect to file lawsuits retroactively — but only if the alleged abuse occurred at the hands of a physician under the guise of treatment.

The original proposal approved by the Senate would have allowed a year for any accuser to sue for abuse committed since 1997. But the measure was scaled back in the House amid pushback from universities, schools, local governments, businesses and the Catholic Church, which cited the financial implications of facing an unknown number of lawsuits for old allegations.

Democrat Rep. Sherry Gay-Dagnogo of Detroit was among those criticizing what they saw as a "carveout" for Nassar victims.

"I don't understand why as a body that's been elected to serve all people, why we continue to advance legislation that would make one group whole and not make another group whole," she said during the House debate.

Many of Nassar's victims reached a $425 million settlement with Michigan State University last week, and an additional $75 million was set aside for future claims. But other entities — such as USA Gymnastics, the U.S. Olympic Committee and an elite Lansing-area gymnastics club where Nassar treated athletes — still face lawsuits.

Another bill would extend the time limit for a juvenile victim to sue to her or his 28th birthday or within three years of realizing she or he had been abused. The cutoff is now generally a victim's 19th birthday, which critics say is out of step with other states and does not account for how many survivors are afraid to report abuse or have suppressed it. Adult victims would have 10 years to sue, instead of what is now generally three.

The legislation would also add athletic trainers, physical therapists and physical therapist assistants to the list of mandatory reporters. At least three Nassar victims say they told Michigan State athletic trainers about his inappropriate treatments, but nothing was done.

The House — which held significantly more hearings on the legislation than the Senate — stopped short of also making coaches mandatory reporters, as proposed by the Senate, even though the university's former head gymnastics coach has been accused of dissuading a teen athlete who complained about Nassar.

Democratic Rep. Adam Zemke of Ann Arbor called the change "absolutely ridiculous" and accused his colleagues of watering down the legislation. But Kesto countered that another bill gets at the issue by prohibiting someone from intentionally using his or her professional authority to keep someone from reporting crimes.

Other bills would require that a second health professional be in the room when a procedure involving vaginal or anal penetration is performed on a minor, require written parental consent before such a procedure is done and require that related medical records be kept for at least 15 years.