LANSING - Michigan State University should not be allowed to use state funds to settle lawsuits related to its handling of former university physician and convicted pedophile Larry Nassar, a state lawmaker said Thursday.
State Rep. Klint Kesto, R-Commerce Township, announced Thursday he is crafting legislation that would prohibit Michigan colleges or universities from using state funds to settle lawsuits related to sexual misconduct. The legislation was inspired by Nassar, who has pleaded guilty in state courts to sexually assaulting nine victims, eight of whom were his patients.
Some 140 women and girls have sued MSU, accusing university officials of failing to protect them from Nassar. Many of the victims say Nassar sexually abused them during medical appointments. Settlement negotiations in those lawsuits fell apart earlier this month.
"The details of this case grow more abhorrent by the day," Kesto, chairman of the state House Law & Justice Committee, said in a statement. "We have to protect taxpayers by ensuring not a single dime of state funding sent to Michigan State University is used as part of a settlement with these unfortunate victims."
An MSU spokesman could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon. The university's annual operating budget is about $1.3 billion, about 20% of which comes from the state. The largest source of revenue is tuition, at 70%.
University officials have declined to comment on the allegations in the lawsuits because of the pending litigation. Earlier this month, MSU officials announced they are establishing a $10 million fund for counseling and mental health services for those who say they were abused by Nassar.
Kesto said in the statement he became concerned after reading reports that USA Gymnastics, whose athletes Nassar also treated, had paid Olympic gymnast McKayla Maroney $1.25 million to settle a claim related to Nassar. He also worried MSU's bill could end up as high as the $93 million Penn State University paid to more than 30 victims of retired assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, who was convicted in 2012 of sexually assaulting young boys.
"These women deserve justice, but it should be the responsibility of the MSU administration to address that," Kesto said. "The settlements relating to the Nassar case should not be paid for by the current students at Michigan State or the taxpayers as a whole."
The Legislature is on recess until Jan. 10.
Nassar, 54, who is currently serving a 60-year prison sentence on federal child pornography charges, was fired by MSU in September 2016, shortly after the allegations against him were made public in an Indianapolis Star report.
Since then, and especially since Nassar pleaded guilty to sexual assault charges in recent weeks, several politicians have gotten involved. Some have met with Nassar's accusers.
Gretchen Whitmer, a former Democratic lawmaker now running for governor — who was Ingham County prosecutor when Nassar was first charged — has called for independent investigation of the university's handling of the case and for MSU President Lou Anna Simon to lose her job. So has Republican Tom Leonard, the current state House speaker running for Michigan attorney general.
State Sen. Tonya Schuitmaker, R-Lawton, who is also running for attorney general, cited the case in calling on her colleagues to pass a long-dormant bill that would eliminate the statute of limitations on certain sexual assault charges if the victim is younger than 16. On Dec. 7, the day Nassar was sentenced in federal court, state Sen. Margaret O'Brien, R-Portage, called on the university to make public the findings of an internal review conducted by attorneys hired by the university.
Neither the U.S. Attorney's Office nor Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette have said whether or not they'll launch an independent investigation of MSU.
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