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Child abuse registry bills headed to Whitmer’s desk

A child covering his face with his hands
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A sponsor of the bill says a major challenge was creating a system that allows parents to check on adults who spend time with their kids – but without ensnaring people who’ve done nothing wrong.

The state House has sent Governor Gretchen Whitmer finalized legislation to create a registry of child abusers.

Democratic state Representative Kevin Hertel is one of the sponsors. He says crafting the bills took a while as lawmakers tried to avoid duplicating problems that existed with the state’s sex offender registry.

“I think the most important thing is the list is supposed to protect children, right?,” he said. “And so it has to be an effective list in order to do that and what we had for many, many years is a list that had people who didn’t contain people also didn’t contain people who should belong on it.”

Republican Representative Luke Meerman is also one of the sponsors. He says a major challenge was creating a system that allows parents to check on adults who spend time with their kids – but without ensnaring people who’ve done nothing wrong. He says it was critical to avoid duplicating the problems that bedeviled Michigan’s sex offender registry.

“It’s got people on it that don’t need to be advertised to the world that they’re a danger to kids and they probably even aren’t a danger to kids.”

Michigan’s sex offender registry was widely criticized for being too sweeping and these bills are crafted to be much more narrow in scope, said Hertel. Child advocates, law enforcement and civil rights organizations were all part of the process of crafting the legislation.

The legislation is named Wyatt’s Law for a child who suffered broken bones and brain damage as a result of abuse by his father’s girlfriend.

Once the legislation is signed into law, it will up to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to create the list. Parents would have to make a request to the department to run a check.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.