Exclusive interview: Santa Ono opens up on life, what he'll bring to UM

Michigan plan requires coaches to report child abuse

Jonathan Oosting
The Detroit News
Larry Nassar

Lansing — The Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday advanced amended legislation that would require paid K-12 school or college athletics coaches to report suspected child abuse or neglect.

The panel added adult coaches back into a proposal inspired by the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal at Michigan State University after the House scaled back mandatory reporter legislation that would have also included volunteers, citing potential costs for state investigators.

Sen. Rick Jones, a Grand Ledge Republican who chairs the committee, called the revised package a “reasonable” approach that citizens he has talked to support.

“There were allegations of three coaches at MSU that didn’t report,” Jones said after the hearing. “I think we need to make coaches, paid coaches, some of them very highly paid coaches, mandatory reporters.”

As The Detroit News reported in January, eight young women and girls warned at least 15 MSU representatives about Nassar over nearly two decades before his arrest in 2016.

Larissa Boyce, who was 16 at the time, said she told two coaches about Nassar in 1997, including then-head gymnastics coach Kathie Klages. A runner said she told her coach about Nassar in 1999. But his abuse continued unchecked.

The reporter legislation, part of a larger 24-bill House sexual abuse prevention package unanimously advanced to the Senate floor, would amend the Michigan Child Protection Law. This law requires school administrators, teachers and other officials to report suspected child abuse to the Department of Health and Human Services.

State Rep. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, who helped negotiate the legislation in the House, said she is personally comfortable with the revised proposal so long as it is tied to training for mandatory reporters and future funding for Child Protective Services.

CPS investigates allegations of child abuse or neglect by those responsible for a child’s welfare.

“I think it’s going to be critical in the fall that we pass a supplemental (spending bill) so that we’re appropriately funding CPS investigators and intake workers,” Chang said.

She cited a Pennsylvania auditor general report showing significant strain on child protection services after lawmakers expanded mandatory abuse reporting laws in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal at Pennylvania State University.

Adding coaches to the list of mandatory reporters in Michigan will lead to increased costs for the state’s Child Protective Services unit, according to the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency. An earlier Senate proposal that included volunteers could have cost $53.6 million a year in additional staffing, state officials said.

Reports of suspected abuse by someone not covered under the Michigan Child Protection Law would be investigated by law enforcement agencies.

Narrowly targeting paid, adult coaches in K-12 or post-secondary interscholastic athletics is appropriate, Chang said. She stressed the importance of a separate advancing bill that would require the state health department to create training materials for mandatory reporters and make the information publicly available online.

“As we expand, I think it’s really, really critical we make sure that every mandatory reporter knows what they’re doing,” Chang said.

Jones said he would have preferred a broader law requiring “all people that participate with athletes” to report child abuse. But he expects the House will be comfortable with what he called a compromise version to include coaches.

 “They better be,” Jones said.