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Finley: Empathy shouldn’t drive policy

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

Victims have become a potent political force.

While once ignored when it came to applying remedies, survivors such as those of the Parkland school massacre and of serial sexual abuser Dr. Larry Nassar today have a powerful influence over policy making and the shaping of public opinion. Their experiences, as told first hand, offer invaluable insight into how to protect and prevent.

In a Jan. 19, 2018 file photo, Olympic gold medalist Jordyn Wieber cries as she gives her victim impact statement in Lansing, during the fourth day of sentencing for former sports doctor Larry Nassar.

But it’s important to remember that theirs is not the only truth. Nor can theirs be the only voices heeded in the shaping of an official response to the tragedies that beset them.

Raw emotion does not lend itself well to the careful deliberation and consensus building necessary to craft sound policies that respect competing interests and conflicting views.

Of the Parkland students, David Hogg has emerged as both an articulate spokesman and a media bully. The teen knows what he wants — no guns — and he’s employed some unsavory tactics, including personal attacks and boycotts to silence those who don’t share his demand for extreme gun control.

Because of the loss and trauma they endured, Hogg and his Parkland peers can neither be called out nor countered without great risk no matter what lines of civility they cross. Ask Marco Rubio or Laura Ingraham.

In Michigan, the 300-plus women and young girls who were sexually assaulted by Nassar while Michigan State University pretended not to see brought the nation to tears in telling their stories.

They deserve justice. And they absolutely should be heard as the state of Michigan and Michigan State University put in place safeguards to make sure what happened to them never happens again.

But as sympathetic as lawmakers must be to their wounds, they can’t cede to them their responsibility to protect the interest of Michigan taxpayers.

The $500 million settlement MSU agreed to with the victims last week might have been much smaller had the university been able to argue that the statute of limitations and governmental immunity protected it from many of the lawsuits.

But victims appealed directly to lawmakers, and a bipartisan group led by Sen. Margaret O’Brien, a Republican, responded with a package of bills that retroactively stripped away governmental immunity and raised the statute of limitations to up to 30 years on sexual abuse charges.

The move took away MSU’s defense. Without the legislation, MSU likely would have still settled with all 300-plus plaintiffs — as it should have — but at a lower cost.

The settlement is contingent on rolling back parts of the legislation, but if lawmakers leave in the extended statute of limitations it will create a legal mess. Imagine an organization trying to defend itself against a 30-year-old allegation, with no one left who was around at the time.

Bad outcomes can be borne out of good intentions. This is one such case.

Lawmakers let fear of the backlash that would arise from opposing a bill demanded by those whom Nassar damaged color their decision-making, and in doing so skewed the settlement negotiations in favor of those suing MSU.

In effect, they abandoned their responsibility to taxpayers in the name of appeasing victims.



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