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Criminal sexual conduct statute-of-limitations bills pass committee

Main gallery of the Michigan House of Representatives
Lester Graham
Michigan Radio

Legislation to end the statute of limitations for second- and third-degree criminal sexual conduct passed out of the Michigan House Criminal Justice Committee Tuesday. Under Michigan law, first-degree criminal sexual conduct is already exempt from a statute of limitations.

The bills are part of a years-long effort to tighten Michigan’s sexual assault laws after abuse by former athletics doctors Larry Nassar, of Michigan State University, and Robert Anderson, of the University of Michigan, came to light.

Representative Julie Brixie (D-Meridian Twp) has been leading the effort. She said the legislation is a “positive step.”

“In terms of protecting children, allowing people to seek justice that is their right and that they’re due and really shining a bright light on serial pedophiles and serial sexual predators,” Brixie said Tuesday.

The package would end governmental immunity in some cases for schools and universities against lawsuits relating to sexual assault.

It would apply to cases where an employee either failed to stop a sexual assault, or was aware, or should have been aware, that an aggressor had committed previous assaults.

Previous versions of the package had broadly applied that to all governmental agencies.

But Brixie says that got pushback from local government stakeholders, leading to the compromise.

“It’s really incumbent upon us to protect children when they’re in school at all levels of education. And that’s how we came up with narrowing and focusing the governmental immunity piece on our educational institutions from kindergarten through college,” Brixie said.

The package would give survivors decades more time to sue over sexual assault.

Current law only gives the later of either a three-year window from the date or recognition of the incident, or the survivor’s 28th birthday, to file a lawsuit.

The legislation would give 10 years after a claim begins, change that window from three to seven years, and increase the age limit from 28 to 52.

Brixie said the delay is to account for a phenomenon known as “delayed disclosure,” where people may not come to terms with what happened until years later.

“One consequence of our statute of limitations that’s so narrow is that by the time a childhood survivor of sex abuse is ready to come forward and talk about what happened to them, they’ll have already missed their opportunity,” Brixie said.

In addition to extending the amount of time survivors can sue, the legislation would provide a two-year look-back window where survivors of past abuse can come forward, regardless of civil statutes of limitation.

State Representative Graham Filler (R-St. Johns) said that’s a cause for concern since alleged crimes theoretically could’ve happened decades ago.

“Individuals will not be able to prove their innocence, as evidence is unavailable. That’s really scary,” Filler said in a statement.

He emphasized his empathy for survivors but said he worried applying the statute of limitations bills retroactively would “distort the Michigan judicial system.”

Filler pointed to other sexual assault legislation lawmakers passed earlier this year, which he co-sponsored, as examples of better ways the Legislature has responded to Nassar and Anderson’s abuse. Those bills specifically addressed abuse under the guise of medical treatment.

“The Michigan Legislature acted in a strong and balanced manner during the Larry Nassar situation. These bills are neither balanced, nor well thought out,” Filler said in reference to the statute-of-limitations legislation.

Similar bills have come up in previous legislative sessions with bipartisan sponsorship. This session's bills could see a House vote as soon as this week.