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A review of the 37 bills legislators have introduced in response to Larry Nassar scandal

Apr 25, 2018

Credit Jodi Westrick / Michigan Radio

The Larry Nassar scandal will shape Michigan’s laws for decades to come.

Nassar is the former Olympics and Michigan State University sports doctor who was convicted of sexually assaulting young girls under the guise of treatment. He’ll likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

The state Legislature has more than 30 bills on its plate aimed at curbing sexual assault in the state and preventing another case like Nassar’s from happening again.

A committee in the state House of Representatives is working on bills introduced in the House and Senate in response to the Nassar situation. The plan is to spend weeks taking testimony and debating the bills. The committee could make changes before it sends the bills to the state House for a floor vote.

The Nassar scandal has taken people and institutions down with it. Some of the bills are in response to how Michigan State University handled complaints against Nassar. Multiple women say they reported assaults and abuse and were ignored. House and Senate subcommittees have also passed their own versions of how the state should spend higher education funds. Both include provisions aimed at combating sexual assault on university campuses.

Senate Bills

A ten bill package was introduced by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the state Senate in February.

Survivors of Nassar's assaults joined with lawmakers as the bills were introduced. One of them was Rachael Denhollander – one of the first women to publicly come forward about Nassar’s abuse.

“I am proud to say that the legislative package will become a blueprint for our country,” she said.

But the Senate soon received sharp criticism on how it handled the bills.

After the lone committee hearing on the package, Speaker of the House Tom Leonard chastised the Senate saying, “I was quite disappointed to see the Senate only gave their package of bills a one-hour hearing and then voted it out.”

Leonard continued: “We need to be deliberative here. This is a big package of legislation that is going to affect our state for years to come.”

Universities, church organizations, and local governments raised concerns after the committee vote. They were concerned giving victims more time to bring civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault – and applying that change retroactively – would have unintended consequences. They said it could open up a floodgate of difficult-to-defend lawsuits.

Two weeks later the package cleared the Senate, but many people were still unhappy. Some were frustrated that the legislation was pared down – particularly the bills concerning the length of time victims could sue. Now the bill would let those who were sexually assaulted as minors as far back as 1997 file civil lawsuits. They would have one year from the time the bill becomes law to file their suits.

“The groups and the individuals that are prioritizing money and prioritizing liability over the survivors are one of the reasons why we got into this situation in the first place,” said Senator David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heights) before the vote. But Knezek voted in favor of the legislation and said it would allow all the survivors of Nassar to seek justice.

Still, as written, the bills would leave out a few Nassar survivors who would have been able to sue under the old version.

“Anyone who is continuing litigating with Michigan State, I encourage them to talk to their attorneys,” said Senator Margaret O’Brien (R-Portage). “Their attorneys I’m sure will have some answers that they can try to help them work through.”

O’Brien said, “This package of bills delivers justice. Justice for the children who have been sexually assaulted.”

SB 871 – Statute of Limitations (O’Brien)

  • Gets rid of the statute of limitations for second-degree criminal sexual conduct against a minor. In cases of third-degree criminal sexual conduct, it would give minor victims until their 48th birthday, or within 30 years after DNA evidence identifies the defendant.

SB 872 – Statute of Limitations (Knezek)

  • Lets those who were sexually assaulted as minors for cases as far back as 1997 file civil lawsuits. They would have one year from the time the bill becomes law to file their suits.

SB 873 – Mandatory Reporters (O’Brien)

  • Expands list of people who must report allegations of child abuse to include K-12 coaches, college staff, youth sports coaches, assistant coaches, athletic trainers and volunteers.

SB 874 – Child Abuse Reporting (Jones)

  • Increases penalties for failure to report suspected child abuse or neglect.

SB 875 – Court of Claims (O’Brien)

  • Allows minor victims of sexual abuse to remain publically anonymous when they bring a civil lawsuit in front of the Court of Claims.

SB 876 – Court of Claims (Horn)

  • Would get rid of the current statute of limitations for victims of childhood sexual abuse who file lawsuits in the Court of Claims.

SB 877 – Government Immunity (Knollenberg)

  • Would get rid of governmental immunity for some individuals and entities. For individuals, if they committed sexual assault. For entities, they lose government immunity if there was negligence in the hiring, supervision, training, or if the agency knew or should have known of the misconduct and failed to report it. 

SB 878 – Sexually Abusive Material (Hertel)

  • Creates the crime of aggravated possession of child sexually abusive material and provides for a penalty.

SB 879 – Sexually Abusive Material (O’Brien)

  • Creates the crime of aggravated possession of child sexually abusive material and outlines sentencing guidelines.

SB 880 – Child Abuse Reporting (Jones)

  • Codifies the changes in sentencing guidelines to increases the penalty for not reporting child abuse.

House Bills

A majority of the House bills were the result of an inquiry into Michigan State University. Two committees requested all documents related to Nassar from 2014 to 2017.

“We’re going to be looking as deep as we need, as thorough as we need to be so that we can hold people accountable, we can be transparent to the victims and support them as best we can and then take action,” said Representative Klint Kesto (R-West Bloomfield) when the inquiry was announced in January.

Members of two committees sifted through thousands of pages of documents. They released a searing indictment of MSU’s handling of sexual assault complaints, as well as the school’s continued defense of its actions.

A letter released following the investigation said, “We feel compelled to note MSU appears to defiantly and wrongfully maintain it did not mishandle this investigation.” The investigation referenced is a complaint filed by Amanda Thomashow in 2014 against Nassar to the MSU Title IX office.

“Putting aside the conflicts with known facts,” the letter continued. “MSU’s arguments simply miss the point. It is incontrovertible that MSU arrived at the wrong conclusion in 2014 and failed to properly conduct its investigation, and MSU would do well to fully acknowledge that mistake.”

The letter also said some of the committee’s findings were, “alarming enough to convey to law enforcement for further investigation.”

HB 5537 – Criminal Sexual Conduct (Kesto)

  • Makes it a crime to prevent the reporting of a crime by intentional use of a person’s position of authority.

HB 5539 – Student Safety Act (LaSata)

  • Includes sexual assault, abuse and rape in the student safety act. That’s a program for receiving reports and other information from the public about potential self-harm and potential harm to others or criminal acts.

HB 5658 – Sexual Crimes (Cox)

  • Allows for the admissibility of prior acts of sexual crimes in some cases.

HB 5659 – Mandatory Reporting (Griffin)

  • Expands mandatory reporting requirements for child abuse or child neglect to include K-12 coaches, assistant coaches and athletic trainers, and volunteers.

HB 5660 – Sexual Abuse (Love)

  • Increases the penalty for the crime of aggravated possession of child sexually abusive material under some circumstances.

HB 5661 – Sexual Abuse (Farrington)

  • Provides for sentencing guidelines for crime of aggravated possession of child sexually abusive material.

HB 5783 – Medical Record Retention (Whiteford)

  • Requires medical offices, physical therapists, athletic trainers, and chiropractors protect, retain, and maintain medical records referencing a vaginal or anal penetration treatment for 15 years. Makes it a crime to fail to keep such records. Exemptions made for urological and gastrointestinal services. 

HB 5784 – Medical Record Retention (Hauck)

  • Enacts sentencing guidelines for the crime of intentionally failing to document certain services in a medical record and performing certain medical treatments on a minor without consent and another individual present.

HB 5785 – Sexual Assault (LaSata)

  • The bill would require sex education for 11th and 12th graders to include instruction on sexual assault and dating violence. 

HB 5786 – Education Employees (Clemente)

  • Requires the Department of Education to maintain records giving the reason or reasons a person stops working for a school district, intermediate school district, public school academy, or under contract in a public school. It also says the department is immune from civil liability.

HB 5787 – Sexual Assault – (Kesto)

  • Updates the language of the law that makes sexual contact and sexual penetration under the pretext of medical treatment a felony and increases penalties.

HB 5788 – Sexual Assault (Geiss)

  • Provides the sentencing guidelines for the revised crime of sexual contact or sexual penetration under the pretext of medical treatment. The bill would make it a 20 year felony for sexual contact and a 25 year felony for sexual penetration.

HB 5789 – Sexual Assault (Noble)

  • The bill would require the permanent revocation of a medical professional’s license or registration if he or she is convicted of sexual conduct under the guise of medical treatment.

HB 5790 – Sexual Assault (Rendon)

  • The bill would require the permanent revocation of a medical professional’s license or registration if he or she is convicted of sexual conduct under the guise of medical treatment.

HB 5791 – Sexual Assault (Chang)

  • Requires K-12 schools give students information about sexual assault and harassment and encourage related professional development.

HB 5792 – Sexual Assault Response Grants (Hoadley)

  • Creates campus sexual assault response improvement plan and grant act.

HB 5793 – Medical Examinations on Minors (Theis)

  • Requires additional person present during certain medical examinations of minors and consent for treatments involving anal or vaginal penetration. Exemptions made for urological and gastrointestinal services. 

HB 5794 – Sexually Abusive Material (Iden)

  • Creates the crime of aggravated production, financing and distribution of child sexually abusive material.

HB 5795 – Campus Sexual Assault Ombudsman (Singh)

  • Creates office of college campus sexual assault ombudsman within Department of Civil Rights. The ombudsman would, among other things, advocate for students at colleges who are victims of sexual assault committed on campus and encourage higher education institutions to improve their services to help students who are victims of sexual assault.

HB 5796 – Mandatory Reporters (Pagan)

  • The bill would require the distribution of training package to individuals designated as mandatory reporters for child abuse or child neglect.

HB 5797 – Sexual Assault (Pagan)

  • Allows people alleging sexual assault in civil actions stay anonymous.

HB 5798 – Victim Impact Statements (Albert)

  • Expands who qualifies as a "victim" for purposes of impact statements. Would require the consent of the victim before other individuals could provide a statement.

HB 5799 – University Boards (Hornberger)

  • Clarifies procedure for removal of official on a university governing board or the State Board of Education. The governor would have the power and duty to look into a member and remove him or her including when the Legislature is in session. Right now, the law says the governor does not have that power when the Legislature is in session.

HB 5800 – Sexual Assault (Rabhi)

  • Prevents K-12 schools from expelling or suspending for more than 10 days a student for actions that the student says happened while he or she was being sexually assaulted or in response to the assault. Also requires school officials to refer student to Title IX coordinator for school district if student reports sexual assault or official believes a sexual assault occurred.

HB 5824 – Health Professionals (Huges)

  • Requires a licensed health professional to forward certain sexual misconduct allegations against themselves the Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs.

Budget Bills

When lawmakers sat down and looked at how the state would spend its money next year, Nassar was clearly on their minds, particularly with the money going to higher education. The House and Senate have their ideas about what is the best way to improve sexual assault investigations on college campuses and reduce sexual misconduct on college grounds.

Both bills include provisions aimed at improving the Title IX offices on campuses and how universities respond to sexual assault complaints.

Representative Jon Hoadley (D-Kalamazoo) sponsored a provision in the House budget that would cut a university’s funding by 10-percent if the school doesn’t adopt certain policies, such as having an in-person sexual assault prevention course for students.

“It’s really providing some teeth,” he said. “Not just that we hope that they do it, but if they choose not to do it then it’ll cost them in terms of financial opportunities.”

SB 857 – Higher Education Budget (Schuitmaker)

  • Includes 14.3 million dollars for campus safety programs, sexual assault prevention programs, and student mental health. Includes provision that all university presidents and governing officials receive all Title IX complaints of sexual misconduct.

HB 5571 – Higher Education Budget (LaSata)

  • Includes provision that would cut a university’s funding by 10-percent if the school doesn’t adopt certain policies related to sexual assault. Those policies include having an in-person sexual assault prevention course for some students, and requiring that sexual assault complaints to the Title IX office against employees are shared with the school’s governing body.

Too much too quickly?

Lawmakers, church officials, and doctors are just some of the people that have raised concerns about various bills, possibly because the bills were drafted in a rush, according to one lawmaker.

Several medical professionals have raised concerns about bills that would put criminal penalties on doctors who fail to document certain procedures. People in the medical profession are concerned this will create a chilling effect on doctors. They say medical professionals are already refusing to do certain exams out of fear of liability.

“First we do no harm,” said Kalamazoo family medicine doctor Glenn Dregansky. “That’s the fundamental tenant of what we do, and a physician did harm under the guise of treatment. So I don’t know how to prevent that. I do know that I am scared to create an atmosphere where physicians are afraid to examine patients.”     

Lawmakers on the House committee are also raising concerns. Representative Rose Mary Robinson (D-Detroit) called the criminal penalties for failure to document “inane” and “stupid.”

Representative Kim LaSata (R-Bainbridge Township) got pushback on one of her bills. Representative Martin Howrylak (R-Troy) raised concerns over a bill that would add sexual assault and healthy relationships education to sex education for 11th and 12th graders. Howrylak said the bill makes a moral judgement that should be up to parents about what is okay in a dating relationship.

“I think there’s no ambiguity when you’re dealing with nobody should be violated sexually or physically,” said Howrylak. “I mean that’s very clear. So if we could kind of focus on that, it will transcend whether there is a relationship or not.”

During a committee hearing, Howrylak and LaSata had a tense exchange.

“I am telling you that you are adding something in here with my tax dollars that could potentially be in violation of what I believe is morally right,” said Howrylak.

LaSata responded, “Then opt out.”

“Well then don’t take my tax dollars,” said Howrylak. “Or maybe you could fix your bill and stop arguing with me.”

“Maybe you could send your kids to a parochial school, and then you would be safe,” said LaSata.

The House committee is scheduled to meet for several more weeks before finalizing the legislation for the House floor. Committee chair Klint Kesto said he welcomes all the criticism and is open to making changes to the bills.

“As the chair of the committee, I think it’s my responsibility to make sure that we’re providing the right information and we’re passing the right laws with as minimum unintended consequences,” Kesto said. “And at the same time providing the safeguards and the protections that we need.”

  This post was updated on Thursday, May 3 at 10:35 a.m.