Bills to Strengthen Sexual Assault Laws Clear State Senate

The bills are part of the Legislature’s response to how Michigan State University handled the Larry Nassar scandal.

Jake Neher/WDET

The state Senate passed legislation that sponsors say will increase the rights of victims of sexual assault.

The bills are part of the Legislature’s response to how Michigan State University handled complaints that disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar assaulted athletes, mostly minors, under his care.

The legislation would give sexual abuse victims more time to file lawsuits, and make it harder for schools and universities to use governmental immunity to fend off legal actions.

“This package of bills delivers justice – justice for the children who have been sexually assaulted,” said bill sponsor, state Sen. Margaret O’Brien (R-Portage).

But while the bills originally moved quickly through the Legislature, they hit a snag this week. Over the last few days, growing concerns prompted lawmakers to rethink some of the bills. 

Universities and the Catholic Church were concerned lengthening the statue of limitations for civil cases of sexual assault would have unintended consequences. 

State Sen. David Knezek (D-Dearborn Heighs) is a bill sponsor. He was frustrated with efforts to change the bills.

“The groups and the individuals that are prioritizing money and prioritizing liability over the survivors are one of the reasons why we got into this situation in the first place,” he said.  

The final version passed by the Senate didn’t lengthen the statute of limitations as much as originally planned. It would limit the extension to people who were minors when they were sexually assaulted, and some victims would have to file a lawsuit within a year after the law is enacted.

While Knezek eventually voted yes on the final bills, a handful of Republicans voted “no” on the bills that would affect the statute of limitations and be applied retroactively. State Sen. Patrick Colbeck (R-Canton) said that violates the Constitution’s ban on ex post-facto laws.

“We need to make sure we don’t add our Constitution to Doctor Nassar’s list of victims,” said Colbeck.

The legislation would also increase the penalties on coaches, trainers, and others who are supposed to report allegations of abuse, but don’t.

The bills now go to the state House.


  • Rick Pluta
    Rick Pluta has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
  • Cheyna Roth
    Cheyna has interned with Michigan Radio and freelanced for WKAR public radio in Lansing. She's also done some online freelancing and worked on documentary films.