LANSING, Mich. – Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has signed into law a measure expanding access to a Michigan child abuse registry, after seven years of pushing by the mother of a victim of abuse at the hands of a caregiver with previous convictions.
“It’s like winning the Stanley Cup or the World Series,” Macomb County mom Erica Hammel told The Associated Press after Whitmer signed Wyatt’s Law, named after her son.
The law allows caregivers to get access to an existing registry of child abusers if they suspect those caring for their child have a history of abuse. Previously, the list hasn’t been accessible to the public, which Hammel says nearly cost her son, now 9 years old, his life when in 2013 she suspected something was wrong with her ex-husband’s girlfriend watching Wyatt.
Had Hammel been able to access the records of the girlfriend, who had two previous convictions of child abuse, she said she could have saved her son from having to fight for his life as a baby after sustaining permanent brain damage and broken bones because of the abuse.
Hammel didn’t want any other families to go through the pain her family went through. She said the first few years of pushing for change, she wasn’t taken seriously.
“I was just a mom whose child had been abused,” Hammel said.
But she kept showing up to the Capitol — over 100 times to make the law happen.
Before he was even in office, Rep. Kevin Hertel, who has introduced the measure in multiple legislative sessions, said he met Hammel during his campaign for office in 2016 and committed to make it a priority.
“We’ve gotten a lot of things done out of our office, but this has been one of the highest priorities of every session,” Hertel told the AP in late April. “Erica is a tireless fighter.”
Previous versions of the legislation proposed making a new registry for abusers, but the version signed into law Thursday looks to refine the Department of Health and Human Services’ “central registry.” The registry, which now will be reviewed, has over 300,000 names of those who have been investigated by child protective services.
The signed law will make the list searchable and ensures only people who are confirmed to pose danger to a child are on the list, adding an appeal process to expunge a person’s name from the list.
Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.