Sports coaches, the types of paid employees who allegedly learned Larry Nassar was molesting gymnasts and other athletes before the sexual abuse scandal broke, would still not be required to report such suspected abuse to the authorities under a watered-down proposal to expand Michigan’s mandatory reporting law.
A state House committee on Wednesday passed a bill that would add physical therapists, physical therapist assistants and — in a reversal from a day earlier — athletic trainers to the list of mandatory reporters. But it drew swift criticism for still backing away from Senate-passed legislation that also would require college employees, coaches and volunteers to report abuse, citing cost concerns, unintended consequences and other issues.
Sen. Rick Jones, a Grand Ledge Republican, said he would move to add paid coaches in his committee after the full House approves its Nassar-inspired bills on Thursday, though another key senator signaled the package would see no additional changes.
“That is ridiculous. A paid professional coach or trainer should have enough common sense and enough training to report a sexual assault on a teenager,” Jones said, hours before the House panel added trainers back in.
Some of Nassar’s victims have said they told a gymnastics coach and trainers at Michigan State University, where the former sports doctor worked, that he had molested them under the guise that it was treatment, but nothing was done. No one has faced charges for not reporting the abuse years ago, but there are multiple investigations under way into the school’s handling of complaints.
Ex-gymnastics head coach Kathie Klages has denied former gymnast Larissa Boyce’s claim that she told Klages that Nassar had abused her in 1997, when Boyce, then 16, was training with the Spartan youth gymnastics team. Boyce said Klages dissuaded her from taking it further even after another gymnast who was 14 told Klages she had received similar “treatments.”
Michigan State softball, volleyball and track and field athletes have also said they told a coach and trainers about Nassar’s inappropriate touching.
Like all other states, Michigan requires health providers, psychologists, teachers, police, clergy and others to report suspected child abuse or neglect to the authorities.
House Law and Justice Committee Chairman Klint Kesto, a Republican from Oakland County’s Commerce Township, said trainers were included again because they are in a “professional category” and wanted to become mandatory reporters. He had said Tuesday that implementing a “complete expansion” of the mandatory reporting law would cost too much and cited problems when Pennsylvania expanded its law after the Penn State University sexual abuse scandal.
“One of the things that the social workers and others pointed out is that if you’re increasing the flood of what comes in, then you’re taking away the attention from the cases that really, really need it most — potentially,” said Rep. Stephanie Chang of Detroit, the ranking Democrat on the panel.
The committee also narrowed a proposed window for victims of childhood sexual abuse to file lawsuits retroactively, to within 90 days of the law taking effect. Going forward, minors would have until their 28th birthday or within three years of realizing they had been abused. The cutoff is now their 19th birthday.
Other House bills would lengthen the time restriction to bring criminal charges in lower-degree sexual misconduct cases, boost training for mandatory reporters of child abuse and neglect, require students in grades 6-12 to receive sexual misconduct and harassment information, mandate that parents give written consent before procedures involving vaginal or anal penetration are performed on a minor, toughen child pornography penalties and make other changes.
Sen. Margaret O’Brien, a Portage Republican who spearheaded bills through the Senate on behalf of Nassar victims, said the revisions to the mandatory reporting and statute of limitations legislation were “disappointing.” While Nassar survivors could sue retroactively, others could not unless they were alleging abuse at the hands of a physician under the guise of treatment.
“I’ve spoken with some of the sister survivors and they worry the message has been lost. Their message all along was, ‘We need to eradicate childhood sexual abuse,’ and they wanted to use their story to change our laws to protect children,” she said. “With the amendments … they worry that people have missed the point and think this legislation was about them. It really wasn’t.”
Nevertheless, O’Brien said she would recommend to leadership that the Senate send the bills to the governor.
“While it’s obviously not what I had hoped for, we do see improvement,” she said.
Gov. Rick Snyder said he supports the bill package, which could win final approval as soon as next week.
“I feel that in this case, a wide range of input over the course of several months has helped shape the best possible solution that has garnered bipartisan support,” he said in a statement.