LANSING, Mich. - Michigan's 15 public universities on Monday asked the Legislature to delay voting on bills inspired by the Larry Nassar sexual abuse case, expressing concern about measures that would retroactively extend the time victims would have to file lawsuits and remove an immunity defence for governmental agencies.
The Senate is posed to vote this week on the legislation backed by victims of the imprisoned former doctor at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics.
In a letter to lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder, the Michigan Association of State Universities said several bills would have a "profound impact." The group commissioned an analysis from the Dykema law firm warning that the proposals would encourage the filing of a "significant number" of lawsuits against universities, churches, schools, governments, and community and civic organizations — exposing them financially, increasing the cost of insurance and having a negative impact on government credit ratings.
"We ask that decisions on these bills be delayed to allow for more analysis and discussion to ascertain their full impact," wrote Daniel Hurley, CEO of the group that advocates for the state's universities.
People sexually abused as children in Michigan generally have until their 19th birthdays to sue. Under the legislation , which is expected to be revised before the Senate votes, those abused as children in 1993 or later could sue until their 48th birthdays while those assaulted in adulthood would have 30 years to file a claim from the time of the abuse.
Republican Sen. Margaret O'Brien, lead sponsor of the bills, said the pushback is "not surprising but very disappointing. ... I don't understand what a delay would do except delay justice, or maybe the hope is to stop it entirely."
Past legislation to extend the statute of limitations has stalled in Michigan, partly because of opposition from the Catholic Conference, the church's lobbying arm, which also has concerns about some of the Nassar-inspired bills. Advocates for change say giving victims just a year to sue after turning 18 protects child molesters and their enablers because survivors often wait to report the abuse due to fear or because they repressed it.
More than 250 girls and women have sued Nassar's former employers, including Michigan State, USA Gymnastics, saying he sexually assaulted them under the guise of treating their athletic injuries. Their attorneys have expressed confidence that victims who are now adults will withstand arguments that they took too long to sue, because they did not become aware of the abuse until 2016, when The Indianapolis Star helped to expose it.
But the legislation would ensure their suits are not tossed on statute of limitations grounds and aid other victims. In the mid-2000s, Michigan courts ruled that men who said they had been molested by priests decades earlier had waited too long to sue.
The universities said their concerns would remain, even if the Senate adopts an amendment that would impose a Dec. 31, 2019, deadline by which accusers would have to file suit for older claims.
The 10-bill package also would add college employees and youth sports coaches, trainers and volunteers to the state's list of people who must report suspected abuse or neglect to child protective services and stiffen criminal penalties for those mandatory reporters who fail to act.
O'Brien said the measures aim to "eliminate child sexual abuse. It's heartbreaking what too many boys and girls go through in today's day and age. ... It's unfortunate that instead of demanding this change and fighting for justice, it's just all about financial liability." An analysis of the legislation by the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency said the financial impact would be "indeterminate."
A spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Rick Snyder declined to state his position on the statute of limitations and governmental immunity bills but said he is working with legislators to "first and foremost" improve the situation for current abuse survivors while also preventing future assaults.
In January and February, Nassar was sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison after pleading guilty to molesting nine victims in the Lansing area, on top of a 60-year federal term for possessing child pornography. Among his more than 250 accusers are several U.S. Olympic gymnasts.
Senate Bills 872, 875-77: http://bit.ly/2Iled5S
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