Lawmaker blasts ‘pedophile priest loophole’ in revised Nassar bills

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News

Lansing – House panel changes to a measure allowing retroactive lawsuits in sexual assault cases amounts to a “pedophile priest loophole,” a state lawmaker said Wednesday as the legislation advanced to the floor.

Democratic state Rep. Tim Greimel of Auburn Hills on Wednesday (May 23, 2018) criticized sexual assault legislation changed in the committee of State Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township

Rep. Tim Griemel, D-Auburn Hills, blasted the scaled-back proposal in a statement released by his campaign for Michigan’s 11th Congressional District. Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, is also running for the post and chairs the committee that spent weeks debating bills inspired by the Larry Nassar sexual assault crisis at Michigan State University.

One measure in the 28-bill package would extend the window for childhood sexual assault victims to file lawsuits over future abuse. But the House shortened a window approved by the Senate and virtually eliminated a provision allowing retroactive lawsuits for abuse dating back to 1997 by limiting it to cases involving physicians like Nassar who tried to pass off assault as medical treatment.

“All victims of sexual assault deserve the protections of this bill,” Greimel said, accusing Kesto of caving to Michigan Catholic Conference lobbyists and “putting the interests of priests who’ve been criminally convicted of sexually abusing children over the victims’ ability to seek justice.”

Kesto fired back after his Law and Justice Committee advanced the package to the full House, setting up a likely floor vote as early as Thursday. Greimel went “in the gutter and in trenches” and is “scratching and clawing to find relevance” in the congressional race, he said.

“It’s kind of disappointing to someone who will use this incident, this tragedy for his own political gain,” Kesto said. “That’s why he sent it from his campaign, clearly. I didn’t see him in this committee one day listening to months' worth of testimony.”

The legislation, as revised in the House, would give childhood sexual assault victims up to their 28th birthday to file civil lawsuits. Current law allows suits up to three years or a victim’s 19th birthday. The Senate had proposed extending the window through age 48 and allowing a broad range of retroactive claims.

Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, called revised proposal a “balanced approach to looking at accuracy, justice and access for survivors in a way that is fair.”

The legislation is a result of “bipartisan compromise,” she said. “It’s something that stakeholders have weighed in heavily on over the past months, and I feel really positive about the direction we’re heading.”

Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, endorsed the legislation that the House committee approved Wednesday and said "a wide range of input over the course of several months has helped shape the best possible solution that has garnered bipartisan support."

Chang was one of two Democrats who did not vote on a proposed amendment by Rep. Frank Liberati, D-Allen Park, that sought to eliminate language restricting retroactive claims to abuse involving a physician like Nassar. The amendment was discarded in a 3-7 vote.

“I think we should protect or give all victims access to the justice system – all victims, whether (they want to sue) a school, a company, a sports league, a religious institution,” Liberati said. “I just don’t see why we are boxing them out.”

Kesto said the statute of limitations legislation was only changed after considerable debate and deliberation in the House committee. He suggested lawmakers may have eliminated retroactivity altogether but were moved by the testimony of Nassar victim Larissa Boyce, who described how Nassar abused her under the guise of medical treatment.

“That was very impressionable on members, Republicans and Democrats,” said Kesto, who used to work in the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office.

“Going retroactive, ex-post facto laws, I think have to be balanced and weighed with everything. But when you look at certain instances where somebody can be conditioned to know it was not sexual assault in a medical procedure – that happened with Larry Nassar – I think that tilted the scale to make sure we included that.”

The package would also extend the statute of limitations in criminal cases. As modified Wednesday, childhood victims would have 20 years to file complaints for second- or third-degree criminal sexual conduct. Limitations would be generally be waived if there is DNA evidence.