MSU President: Students, Taxpayers Will Probably Have To Pay For Larry Nassar Lawsuits
Lawsuits filed against Michigan State University by victims of former employee Dr. Larry Nassar will likely end up costing the school's students and its taxpayers, interim President John Engler said on Thursday.
Engler made those comments before a hearing held on the matter by the Michigan Senate's higher education subcommittee. He was speaking in opposition of a package of bills passed by the state's Senate seeking to address sexual assault issues in the wake of the Nassar scandal at MSU.
The proposed legislation, which now heads to the Michigan House of Representatives for further consideration, would do the following, according to the Detroit Free Press:
- Extend the statute of limitations for criminal sexual abuse claims to 30 years after a person's 18th birthday. For civil lawsuits, the statute of limitations would be 30 years after a person's 18th birthday if they were minors when the assaults occurred and 10 years if the person was at least 18.
- Would allow a person to file a civil lawsuit retroactively back to 1997 if the person was a minor when the assault occurred.
- If a victim has a retroactive claim, the person would have until a year after the law becomes effective to file a claim.
- Increase the penalties for possessing child pornography;
- Expand the number of adults who are mandated to report complaints of sexual abuse to include coaches, athletic trainers, physical therapists, volunteers and bus drivers, and increase the penalties for failing to report cases.
- Clarify the law to ensure that governmental entities, including universities and colleges, do not have immunity from civil or criminal cases of sexual assault if they knew or should have known of the cases and failed to report those cases to law enforcement.
Engler said the package of bills, if made law, would hurt MSU's position in negotiating settlements with the suing Nassar victims. So far, the university faces dozens of such lawsuits. Nassar's victims number in excess of 250.
Engler, who was the governor of Michigan from 1991 to 2003, said the proposed legislation would probably cause MSU to increase tuition costs to cover the expenses of the lawsuits. That didn't sit well with several senators, according to the Freep:
Sen. Curtis Hertel, D-East Lansing, a committee member, wasn't pleased with Engler's attack on the Legislature.
"I think blaming the Legislature for trying to make sure that survivors have access to justice is not good and I think that, in reality, there’ve been negotiations about settlements since November so to blame that on the Legislature is disingenuous," Hertel said.
Committee chairwoman Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, was blunter.
Paying for the settlements "should not be based on taxpayers and students."
Even sharper criticism came from Rachael Denhollander, the former gymnast who in 2016 became the first victim to publicly accuse Nassar:
MLive.com reports that Engler recently met with several lawmakers in private, lobbying for changes to the proposed legislation:
"President Engler met with the Senate Majority Leader to talk about the package, specifically asking the Senate to slow down and take more time to examine the fiscal implications to the state that some of the bills would have in opening up the liability window," said MSU spokesperson Emily Gerkin Guerrant.
The Senate, after considering the last-minute input from individuals like Engler and groups like the Michigan Catholic Conference and Michigan Chamber of Commerce, made changes to the bill. The version it passed took the retroactivity back to 1997, limited it to the sexual abuse of minors and created a period during which older claims would have to be filed.
Asked if the changes had won Engler over, [Senate Majority Leader Arlan] Meekhof [R-West Olive] said they had not.
"I wouldn't say that, no. There were pieces of it he liked, but he didn't care for it that much," Meekhof said.
Engler also said Thursday that his goal is for MSU to reach a settlement with Nassar's victim by the end of MSU's current semester in May.