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Michigan Senate Adopts Sexual Misconduct Bills

Michigan Capitol
Wikipedia Media Commons

The state Senate passed legislation sponsors say will increase the rights of victims of sexual assault.

The billsare part of the Legislature’s response to how Michigan State University handled complaints that disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar assaulted athletes, mostly minors, under his care.

The bills give sexual abuse victims more time to file lawsuits and make it harder for schools and universities to use governmental immunity to fend off legal actions.

“This package of bills delivers justice – justice for the children who have been sexually assaulted,” said bill sponsor, Senator Margaret O’Brien (R-Portage).

But while the bills originally moved quickly through the legislature, they hit snag this week.  Over the last few days, growing concerns prompted lawmakers to rethink some of the bills. 

Universities and the Catholic Church were concerned lengthening the statue of limitations for civil cases of sexual assault would have unintended consequences. 

Senator David Knezek(D-Dearborn Heighs) is a bill sponsor.  He was frustrated with efforts to change the bills.

“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,” he said. 

The final version passed by the Senate didn’t lengthen the statute of limitations as much as originally planned.  It would limit the extension to people who were minors when they were sexually assaulted, and some victims would have to file a lawsuit within a year after the law is enacted.

While Knezek eventually voted yes on the final bills, a handful of Republicans voted “no” on the bills that would affect the statute of limitations and be applied retroactively.  State Senator Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton) said that violates the Constitution’s ban on ex post-facto laws.

“We need to make sure we don’t add our Constitution to Doctor Nassar’s list of victims,” said Colbeck.

The bills would also increase the penalties on coaches, trainers, and others who are supposed to report allegations of abuse, but don’t.

The bills now go to the state House.

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— Rick Pluta is the Managing Editor and Reporter for the Michigan Public Radio network.  Contact WEMU News at734.487.3363 or email us at studio@wemu.org

Rick Pluta is the managing editor for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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