Michigan Senate OKs Nassar bills extending time to sue

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
The Michigan Senate on Tuesday passed legislation that would allow more time for child sexual abuse victims to take legal action against their abusers.

Lansing — The Michigan Senate on Tuesday passed legislation that would allow more time for child sexual abuse victims to take legal action against their abusers.

The two bills now advance to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk, where they are poised to be the first proposals dealing with the fallout from former sports doctor Larry Nassar's sexual assaults to become state law.

The legislation is among 28 bills that seek to address failings that allowed Nassar to assault women and girls over two decades while working for Michigan State University and the U.S. Olympic gymnastics team. 

Senators voiced their support Tuesday for the statute of limitations legislation while expressing disappointment in changes made by the House.

Sen. Margaret O'Brien, R-Portage, said legislators missed their chance to "walk to the talk" and she "reluctantly" urged others to support the legislation.

"I will not end my fight, our fight, to eradicate childhood sexual assault," O'Brien said.

Even as Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. expressed his support for the legislation "as an improvement over current law," he said legislators' work was not finished. 

“These bills have been whittled down to only provide justice for certain survivors," said Hertel, D-East Lansing. "Colleagues, we owe every, every single survivor access to justice.”

The Senate-approved legislation would extend Michigan’s civil statute of limitations, allowing childhood victims to sue up to 10 years after reaching the age of majority, or three years after realizing the sexual misconduct had taken place. Current law allows victims three years to file a civil suit or one year past the age of majority.

The legislation also creates a 90-day retroactive window for cases dating back to 1997 involving a physician who was convicted of sexual misconduct under the guise of medical treatment. The terms of the retroactive window essentially limit the legal relief to Nassar victims.

A second bill passed Tuesday would allow prosecutors more time to file charges in certain criminal sexual conduct cases when a victim was younger than the age of 18 at the time of the incident.

The Senate initially introduced more expansive civil statute of limitations legislation that would have extended the time period in which a victim could sue up to 30 years past a victim's 18th birthday and allowed for a one-year retroactive window that would apply to all childhood victims of sexual abuse.

But the proposal met with opposition in House committee because of the difficulty to produce reliable witnesses and evidence after so many years had passed. Experts also worried about the anticipated burden the increase in lawsuits would create for the court system.

Other bills that would have stripped government institutions of their immunity in certain sexual misconduct cases passed the Senate but were dropped by House lawmakers. 

A stipulation of Michigan State University's $500 million settlement with Nassar victims required the women to drop their support of the governmental immunity bills, with the belief that lawmakers would follow suit. 

House lawmakers, when they announced the elimination of those bills, reasoned that lawsuits allowed through the governmental immunity bills would place too great a burden on taxpayers.

Twenty-six other Nassar-related bills passed by the House are expected to go to Senate committee next week. 

Those bills include provisions that would increase consent requirements and documentation for certain medical procedures, expand laws and penalties for child sexually abusive material, increase student education about sexual assault and harassment, create a statewide office to consult on Title IX policy and procedure, and clarify the procedure for removing university trustees.