Wednesday evening, the Michigan State Senate approved bipartisan legislation to provide more resources and support to survivors of sexual assault and harassment with a vote of 28-7. The bills will now go to the Michigan House of Representatives.
Led by the victims of Larry Nassar, disgraced former U.S.A. Gymnastics and Michigan State University doctor, the legislation came in a package of bills that works to change how universities and state institutions respond to sexual assault reports. Under the legislation, penalties for possessing child pornography are increased to four years. The individuals legally required to report sexual abuse complaints also increased to include coaches, athletic trainers, physical therapists with a penalty of $1,000 for not reporting. In addition, the law clarifies government entities, universities and colleges do not have immunity from cases of sexual assault.
Additionally, legislation would change the statute of limitations on reporting sexual assault. Under previous Michigan law, survivors who were abused as children generally can file lawsuits against their abusers until they turn 19 years old. The Associated Press reports the newly passed legislation gives survivors of child abuse a one-year timeframe to file lawsuit for claims from as early 1997. Those sexually assaulted during adult years cannot sue retroactively.
Earlier in the week, the bills were feared to be stuck in limbo as the Michigan Association of State Universities, which includes the University of Michigan, requested the Senate delay voting, claiming the legislation would have a “profound impact” on public Michigan universities. MASU’s CEO Daniel Hurley wrote in a letter to lawmakers and Gov. Rick Snyder it would be crucial to take more time to consider potential 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.
State Sen. Margaret O’Brien, R-Kalamazoo, pushed back on these claims in a statement, saying criticism “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.”
The legislation also received criticism from governments, businesses, the Michigan Catholic Conference and others.
Democrats criticized the possibility of delaying voting on legislation. In a statement, State Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr., D-East Lansing, stated drawing the line between support for survivors and support for institutions is critical.
“At the end of the day, we have to decide whether we want to stand with the survivors or whether we want to stand with the big institutions on this,” he said. “I think it’s fairly simple where we should be morally and that’s where I’m going to be.”
State Sen. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, voted against many of the bills, calling them “precedent-setting and very dangerous — things that we don’t have any clue what the unintended consequences are.”
For those in support of legislation, the vote in the Senate signaled an advancement in providing justice to survivors. State Sen. David Knezek, D-Dearborn Heights, sponsored the bill that extends the statute of limitations, and stated this particular bill can elevate the voices of those abused in the past and those who report such abuse.
“(The bill) allows every single individual who was a victim of Dr. Nassar’s to seek justice,” Knezek said. “We have a really unique opportunity to take Michigan out of the dark ages when it comes to our laws surrounding sexual assault, to give a voice to the victims who have been denied that voice for decades in some cases.”