Michigan’s 15 public universities requested the state legislature on Monday to postpone voting on a package of bills aimed at combating sexual assault and expanding survivors’ legal rights, citing worry about measures that would allow more lawsuits to be filed against government agencies including the universities by giving victims more time to file.
The Michigan state Senate is scheduled to vote later this week on the legislation, which was inspired by the recent trial of Larry Nassar, a former doctor at Michigan State University who sexually abused hundreds of young patients and students.
The Michigan Association of State Universities — of which the University is a member — the coordinating board for the state’s public universities, wrote in a letter to lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder the bills would have a “profound impact.”
An analysis from Dykema, a law firm commissioned by the board, indicated the laws would lead to a “significant number” of lawsuits against the universities and other organizations, including governments and churches, posing a financial risk by potentially increasing the cost of insurance and negatively impacting government credit ratings.
MASU’s CEO Daniel Hurley asked for more time to consider the effects of the legislation.
“We ask that decisions on these bills be delayed to allow for more analysis and discussion to ascertain their full impact,” Hurley wrote in the group’s letter to lawmakers.
Currently, survivors of childhood sexual abuse in Michigan have until their 19th birthdays to file lawsuits. Under the proposed legislation, children who suffered abuse in 1993 or later would be able to sue before they turned 48 and adult victims of assault would have 30 years to file a claim after the fact.
State Sen. Margaret O’Brien, R-Kalamazoo, is the lead sponsor of the bills. She said in a statement these are “much-needed protections.”
“It is important that our laws protect those who are most vulnerable, including our children,” O’Brien said. “This legislation would put fear into the heart of any possible perpetrator. Justice must be served.”
The bills would also allow victims of childhood sexual abuse to remain publicly anonymous when bringing a claim in the Michigan Court of Claims and increase reporting requirements for college employees and youth sports coaches, making them mandatory reporters of child abuse. Failing to report could result in a felony of up to two years imprisonment and/or up to a $5,000 fine.
An analysis of the legislation by the nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency said the financial impact would be “indeterminate.”
O’Brien told the Associated Press 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,” O’Brien said.
“I am ASHAMED to attend a public university in this state,” she wrote. “How much is a child worth? They’ve just given their answer.”