More than 30 bills in response to sexual predator Larry Nassar are moving from a House committee to the full House and back over to the Senate today.
Nassar is the former Michigan State University sports doctor who will likely spend the rest of his life in prison for sexually assaulting his patients.
Republican Representative Klint Kesto is chair of the House Law and Justice Committee. He's been leading the negotiations in the House over these bills. Kesto speaks with Stateside about some of the changes House committees have made to the Senate bills.
Statute of limitations
One of the Senate bills, SB 871, would eliminate the statute of limitations for second-degree criminal sexual conduct. House committees have proposed slimming down this bill making the statute of limitations for adults 15 years from the date the incident occurs. For a minor, the limit would be 28 years of age or 15 years from the date of the incident.
“We are improving the criminal statute of limitations, making sure our prosecutors and law enforcement have the tools to be able to hold accountable and bring to justice those perpetrators,” Kesto said.
On the civil litigation side, House committee has proposed changing the statute of limitations for minors from one year after the age of majority — 19 years old years — to ten years after the age of majority — 28 years old. Adults will have 10 years from the date the assault took place to file civil lawsuits.
“We talked to the Michigan Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, and they were all in support of these two bills,” Kesto said. “So from a statute of limitation view, you have increased for more holding accountable the perpetrator and bringing him to justice and behind bars. And from a civil side, you have the ability that we are there for survivors, and we're expanding the statute of limitations to allow them justice to be able to have their civil remedy.”
House committees have also tightened up the Senate bills on retroactive lawsuits, only allowing it to apply to cases where physicians try to pass off assault as medical treatment.
But why not include cases where abuse is perpetrated by teachers, coaches, or church leaders?
According to Kesto, retroactivity can be a tricky topic, and initially there was very little support for it in the House committee.
“Here's the bottom line, when you look at the situation with Larry Nassar, we heard from one of the survivors. And she indicated that she was conditioned and she was essentially brainwashed to believe that what was happening was a medical condition,” Kesto said. “She had questions about what actually was happening, but based on conversations with others, they conditioned her, and Larry Nassar conditioned her, to believe that this was medical treatment.”
The House has also included a provision in that bill that states once an individual finds out a sexual assault occurred, they have three years from that date to bring forth a claim, even if it is beyond the statute of limitations.
“That's how we looked at the retroactive part,” Kesto said. “We said as a matter of fairness, as a matter of fairness to somebody who would have been conditioned — would have been brainwashed to believe this was a medical treatment — an avenue of recourse in the civil justice system should be there."
Both Senate and House bills expand the list of people required to report certain instances of child abuse and neglect.
Kesto says this list of mandatory reporters is intended to include individuals of a professional capacity that interact with children such as teachers, health care professionals, and health care assistants. The House committee also added physical therapists and athletic trainers to that list.
Paid coaches are not included. Kesto said it is simply too difficult to give a blanket law to all paid coaches.
“Where is the line drawn?” Kesto said. “Is it the little league coach that makes twenty bucks for just organizing the event? Or is it university coaches? And then what are they actually reporting about? Because the Larry Nassar situation, I don’t think fits under this one. You don’t call Child Protective Services that investigate abuse by parents or guardians when it’s a Larry Nassar physician who is sexually assaulting them from their time as athletes. So it didn’t fit in there.”
Instead, Kesto said the House added another section which would make it a crime for a coach to be dismissive or discourage an individual or group from reporting — like what took place at MSU in the Nassar case.
Bills getting rid of government immunity in certain sexual misconduct cases did not clear the House committee.
Kesto saids there was not support for these bills because they would have put taxpayers on the hook.
“Frankly when I talked to people — my constituents — and people in the state of Michigan they said, ‘No, we shouldn’t be responsible for someone's intentional actions,'” Kesto said. “So based on that, based on other testimony that came through committee, there wasn’t support for that piece of legislation.”