After Larry Nassar's Sentencing, Lawmakers Look to 'Make Sure This Never Happens Again'
By Kathleen Gray and Paul Egan
In the wake of the Larry Nassar scandal, lawmakers in Lansing called Thursday for legislation to ensure that sexual abuse complaints are never ignored again and two legislators sent a subpoena to MSU demanding records of complaints filed against Nassar over a three-year period.
"History is doomed to repeat itself if we do not listen and learn from it. How do we move forward? What can we do to right the wrongs?" asked state Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton. "Fortunately, all of you are committed to righting the wrongs. And we're working daily to write legislation that will actually produce a real change for our children."
Lawmakers are looking to beef up mandatory reporting requirements when sexual abuse complaints are made at universities and colleges and increase penalties when those requirements aren't met. They also want to eliminate the 10-year statute of limitations for charging or filing a civil lawsuit against someone who is suspected of committing a sexual assault on a person under the age of 16.
"It's unacceptable that only half the girls can bring a criminal case," Schuitmaker said. "Every day that goes by is another victim out there who can't bring a criminal case."
State Sen. Margaret O'Brien, R-Portage, is leading the charge in drafting legislation, which could be introduced as soon as next week, and she applauded her fellow legislators for supporting the efforts.
"Today I rise as a Spartan -- a heartbroken and angry Spartan. I'm angry because they failed to protect the lives of innocent girls and young women," she said in an impassioned speech on the floor of the Senate. "Change is needed and we play an important role in change. Many of you are working with me on legislation to improve our laws to protect our young people."
State Reps. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, and Kim LaSata, R-Bainbridge Township, also are starting an investigation of the university's relationship with Nassar and how it handled complaints brought to its attention.
They sent a subpoena to MSU on Thursday, asking for any and all documents relating to complaints filed with the university against Nassar from 2014 through 2017.
"We need to get to the bottom of this and figure out what happened so we can make sure this never happens again," Kesto said. "It's our job as legislators to figure out how we change policy and how we hold people accountable when we're sending our children to these establishments."
LaSata said she's primarily looking for answers.
"What my hope is that we find out where the holes were ... so we can strengthen the laws on Title IX reporting," she said, referring to the federal civil rights process that is supposed to protect college students from being intimidated for reporting incidents of sexual assault, harassment or violence. "I don't want to do a witch hunt. That's the attorney general's job."
State Rep. Adam Zemke, D-Ann Arbor, who sponsored a resolution passed by the House on Wednesday calling on Simon to resign, said he's not sure how much the Legislature can do, since universities are constitutionally autonomous institutions.
The primary authority the Legislature has over universities is the power of the purse strings. The state sends funding to universities, including about 20% of MSU's $1.3-billion general fund budget.
"We're still looking into it. I know there's going to be a lot of investigations," he said. "It's unclear and we're still trying to figure out the role the Legislature and the governor has in doing something."
At least one person wants Gov. Rick Snyder to get more involved.
Republican consultant Dennis Lennox filed a lawsuit in the Michigan Court of Claims on Thursday, seeking to compel Snyder to convene an inquiry aimed at removing the MSU trustees.
"The record is clear that the highest levels of Michigan State University failed to safeguard" girls and young women from Nassar, despite warnings, Lennox said in a news release. "Just as the NCAA had a duty to launch its inquiry so does the governor under the Constitution."
Lennox cited Article 5, Section 10 of the Michigan Constitution, which says the governor has "a duty" to inquire into any public office and may remove elected officials, such as MSU trustees, for "gross neglect of duty" and other offenses.
"MSU President Lou Anna Simon and MSU Board of Trustee members were aware of and/or failed to exercise the standard of care necessary so as to constitute gross neglect of Nassar's patterns of abuse," says the lawsuit, filed by East Lansing attorney Jeffrey Hank.
Anna Heaton, a spokeswoman for Snyder, declined to comment. But she pointed to a state law that exempts university boards from inquiries by the governor when the Legislature is in session, as it is currently.
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