More Nassar-inspired bills headed to Michigan governor
LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan lawmakers on Tuesday advanced more bills inspired by the Larry Nassar sexual abuse case — voting to ease the prosecution of alleged abusers, stiffen child pornography penalties and let more people speak at sentencings under certain circumstances.
The legislation, which won unanimous Senate approval after clearing the House in June, will soon reach Gov. Rick Snyder for his expected signature. Nearly 20 other bills remain pending, including at least one over which legislators are at odds — expanding who must report suspected child abuse to include paid coaches.
Under one measure moving toward Snyder’s desk in the lame-duck session, judges could admit evidence of a defendant’s prior commission of a sex assault. A similar option already exists in domestic violence prosecutions. Judges also would be given more flexibility to allow evidence of an assault committed more than 10 years before the charged offense.
Other bills given final passage Tuesday would allow stiffer prison terms for people convicted of child sexually abusive activity involving a prepubescent child, or if the material includes a video or more than 100 images. Senators also voted for legislation that would expand who can give a victim impact statement at a sentencing if the victim is dead, mentally incapacitated or consents to someone else being designated as a victim.
Those who could speak include family members of a victim.
Earlier this year, Michigan enacted two laws in response to the Nassar scandal. One gave childhood sex abuse victims more time to sue, including by creating a 90-day window for Nassar victims to do so retroactively. Another law gave prosecutors 15 years or until a victim’s 28th birthday to file charges in second- and third-degree sexual conduct cases if the victim was younger than 18.
Nassar, a 55-year-old former Michigan State University sports doctor who also worked at USA Gymnastics, is serving effective life sentences for child porn possession and molesting young women and girls under the guise of medical treatment.
Also Tuesday, Michigan State announced the completion of its initial $425 million payment into a court-created fund as part of a $500 million settlement with hundreds of Nassar victims reached in May. An independent judge will work directly with victims to determine individual payouts.
Interim MSU President John Engler also announced that $8.5 million remaining in a fund that covered counseling for victims will be redirected toward the settlement payment, reducing the school’s borrowing. Board of Trustees Chairman Brian Breslin said the Healing Assistance Fund, which was suspended in July due to fraud concerns, was intended to be a bridge until victims receive their settlement amounts.
“We hope survivors who need counseling support continue to seek out appropriate services including the several options available on campus,” he said in a statement.
But Nassar victims criticized the fund shift. Rachael Denhollander, the first woman to publicly identify herself as a victim, tweeted that the fund was not established to last only until a legal settlement and Engler’s decision to keep the fund closed left “survivors without help.”