News Story

An Apparent Political Panic In Response To University Sex Abuse Scandal

Legislators scramble by introducing at least 30 bills

Former Michigan State University athletic trainer Larry Nassar was convicted Jan 24 for sexually abusing more than 150 women and girls. In the months leading up to and following that day, members of the Michigan Legislature have introduced at least 30 bills and resolutions related to the issue.

The bills are sponsored by Democrats and Republicans and propose a variety of responses to the scandal, including changes to criminal law and procedures, new duties for educators and social workers, and more.

A number of bills deal directly with sexual abuse in schools and colleges. Some call for expanding explicit bans on sexual relations between school employees and minors. Others call for requiring sexual abuse prevention education and prohibiting a student who sexually abuses a schoolmate — either on or off school property — from being re-enrolled in the same school after being found guilty or responsible for the offense.

Current law makes it a crime for health care professionals and social workers to fail to report suspected child abuse. Several bills would expand and increase penalties in the law and specifically extend the law to physical therapists, athletic trainers and their assistants. Another bill would explicitly deny school and government employees and volunteers immunity from personal liability lawsuits — currently offered under a doctrine of government immunity — if they commit sexual misconduct. One bill would prohibit governmental bodies from using taxpayer funds to settle sexual abuse lawsuits.

One group of bills would address governance at Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University. They propose term limits on members of these university’s governing boards, converting these positions from elected by the people to gubernatorial appointment (with approval by the Senate) and imposing open meeting requirements.

At least half a dozen measures would extend or even eliminate the statute of limitations on prosecutions and lawsuits related to the sexual abuse of a minor.

Most of the bills surveyed by Michigan Capitol Confidential are still in committee, but some have been passed by either the House or Senate. One bill that has passed both chambers and is awaiting Gov. Rick Snyder's signature would appropriate $1 million for the attorney general to investigate “systemic issues with sexual misconduct at Michigan State University.”

In recent testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, American Civil Liberties Union Policy Counsel Kimberly Buddin said there are systematic failures that need to be addressed to protect children from sexual abuse. She added that lawmakers must be careful not to enact any new laws that might have unintended consequences or erode the due process or other rights of accused individuals.

“As a principle, removing the statute of limitations for crimes should be done with great caution as they were enacted to ensure the ripeness of a lawsuit and protect constitutional rights such as due process—pillars of our legal system,” Buddin said. “By removing the statute of limitations, we limit an individual’s ability to effectively defend themself by limiting the accessibility to defensive evidence and potentially may deprive them of true due process.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.