Budget amendment requires reporting on legal expenses of Michigan’s public institutions
State Rep. Jim Runestad, R-White Lake, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, today announced he has requested an amendment to the state budget requiring Michigan’s public universities and colleges to report their expenditures for legal fees to the Legislature.
Runestad, who testified before the House Oversight Committee last October challenging the limits of universities’ operational autonomy, stated that the Legislature is ultimately responsible for oversight of public funds and should act to require reporting of their legal expenses. The budget amendment would require reporting to the Legislature of all lawsuits against public universities and colleges and the legal expenses paid in settlements, courts or for other legal services.
“This reporting is necessary to protect Michigan citizens’ due process rights from large public institutions with significant resources,” stated Runestad. “Without legislative oversight, taxpayer-funded institutions can be restricting or violating the rights of students, staff, and faculty without knowing how many consider lawsuits each year.”
Runestad stated that he initially requested this budget amendment last year as a means of acquiring information on the number of students, faculty and staff who pursue lawsuits on free speech rights violations on public campuses. However, the matter came to a head with the case of Larry Nassar, a former physician at Michigan State University, who was convicted of sexually assaulting women and girls over a period of years. Public funds may have been used for legal services to mitigate the universities’ liability.
A bipartisan group of legislators have called for the resignation of the university’s president. Runestad agrees and added “New leadership alone will not end decades of corruption compounded by a resistance to adhere to the Open Meetings Act, the Freedom of Information Act and basic provisions of our Bill of Rights, federal and state constitutions.”
Language requiring this reporting may be considered as part of the regular House budget process this year.