Nassar-inspired bill could cost the state $54M

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Legislation increasing penalties for sports and other officials failing to report suspected child abuse would cost the state of Michigan at least an extra $54 million a year, a state health official said Wednesday.

The proposal inspired by sports doctor Larry Nassar’s scandal at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics would trigger increases in Child Protective Services complaints that would cost roughly $53.6 million, a Michigan Department of Health and Human Services official said.

“That’s solely staffing,” Colin Parks, manager for CPS programs and policies, said following the House Law and Justice Committee hearing.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Rick Jones, R-Grand Ledge, would increase the penalty for a mandatory reporter who failed to report suspected child abuse or neglect from a misdemeanor to a two-year felony. The bill also would create a penalty for volunteers who failed to report, but were required to do so.

An accompanying House bill, introduced by Rep. Beth Griffin, R-Mattawan, would add paid or volunteer coaches, assistant coaches or athletic trainers at K-12 or postsecondary institutions to the list of mandatory reporters.

Jones said he hopes the legislation breaks the “culture of silence” surrounding sexual abuse.

“This isn’t just MSU,” Jones said. “All of our organizations, all of our universities, all of our colleges seem to have this culture of silence.”

The bills are among a couple dozen introduced in the House and Senate to prevent serial sexual abusers like Nassar from going unchecked for so long.

Nassar will spend the rest of his life in prison after pleading guilty to child pornography and sexual assault charges. He’s been accused of sexually abusing more than 250 women and girls under the guise of medical treatment, some of whom say their complaints to university officials went unheeded.

Parks said legislation similar to the one increasing penalties for mandatory reporters was enacted in Pennsylvania after the 2011 pedophilia scandal involving Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach at Penn State University.

The legislation prompted a 40 percent increase in child abuse and neglect reports to the state, he said.

In Michigan, a similar increase would result in an uptick of about 67,000 complaints, Parks estimated, and require more than 350 additional central intake and CPS staffers, investigators and supervisors.

The staffing increase alone would cost the department $53.6 million, Parks said, and does not include ancillary services that might be required for each case.

Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, said the cost is proof that a focused, deliberative approach is needed when considering each of the Nassar-inspired bills.

“All kids need to be protected in every environment, but we have to understand what we’re doing,” Kesto said. If the new legislation overloads Child Protective Services resources, he said, some kids mgith be overlooked or lost in the system.

“That could be worse for children,” Kesto said.

Dr. Mical Raz, a physician who studied the effects of expanded reporting requirements in Pennsylvania, opposed the proposed expansions in Michigan.

In written testimony, Raz said Pennsylvania’s reporting hotline, Childline, was “inundated” with calls after the new law and “tens of thousands were unanswered or undocumented.” Additionally, she said, there’s little evidence to suggest increased reporting requirements make kids safer.

“In fact, increased reporting may contribute to making children less safe, by spreading thin already underfunded resources and turning the attention of caseworkers away from the children who need immediate intervention,” Raz wrote.

She recommended Michigan instead increase education about child maltreatment and make sure a pathway to report abuse or neglect is well-defined.

Other bills addressed Wednesday would require the Health and Human Services department to develop and distribute training standards and materials for mandatory reporters, require law enforcement to inform the state’s licensing agency of sexual abuse allegations involving licensed health professionals and expand the ability of the governor to remove university trustees.

Hearings on the bills are expected to resume Tuesday.

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