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Child abuse, sexual assault reporting bills cleared for governor

Michigan State Capitol, Lansing, Michigan
Ken Lund
Michigan State Capitol, Lansing, Michigan

House bills to revokea doctor’s medical license for engaging in sexual conduct under the pretext of medical treatment made it out of the Michigan Legislature Wednesday. They passed the state Senate by wide bipartisan margins.

The issue arose in recent years when sex abuse committed by former Michigan State University athletics doctor Larry Nassar came to light. He often told patients his crimes were medically necessary.

The Legislature has been working on a response in the years since his federal sentencing in 2017 and subsequent state sentences in 2018.

Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D-Grand Rapids), who took on that leadership position this year, said it’s been frustrating for several lawmakers that it’s taken this long.

“I think it was recognized that that was important policy for many years. So I’m not sure exactly why some of it didn’t get a vote in the past, as I wasn’t making those decisions of what goes up on the board then. But I’m very proud that we are able to finally get some of that stuff done that was kind of hanging out there,” Brinks said.

Aside from dealing with medical treatment, the House billswould create new training materials for mandatory reporters — people like teachers and counselors who are required to report suspicions of abuse.

They would also ban using a position of professional authority to intimidate someone against reporting.

Representative Julie Rogers(D-Kalamazoo) is a lead sponsor on the package. She said it’s important to strengthen laws surrounding child abuse and sexual assault.

“We never want this kind of tragedy to happen again. And so, while certain people in the past may have been brought to justice, we also want to prevent this from ever happening again," Rogers said. "That’s why it really matters.”

Similarly, Rep. Graham Filler (R-St. Johns) pointed to the bills as a way to catch patterns of abuse.

“Not only does this bring attention but I think prosecutors know to see it and charge it. And I think school administrators now, if they heard something that was heard during the Nassar [investigation] before we knew what was going on, I think they would be like ‘That’s a red flag right there,’” Filler said.

Another bill in the package would prevent schools from handing out expulsions or long suspensions in relation to reporting sexual assault.

Sponsors have said the goal is to encourage kids to come forward without fear of retaliation or punishment — for example, if a student sharing information was in a part of the school where they weren’t supposed to be.

The six House bills cleared for the governor Wednesday partner with a Senate bill package awaiting a final vote in the House.

Separately, House bills to address statute-of-limitations concerns with Michigan’s handling of criminal sexual conduct in both criminal and civil court are also working their way through the Legislature.

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Colin Jackson is the Capitol reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network.
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