Michigan senator working to change sex offender law

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – A new bill is just a few steps away from being introduced to our State Senate. Sen. Curtis Hertel, Jr.’s (D), Meridian Twp., proposal, would make it illegal for registered sex offenders to volunteer at non-profit organizations serving children or victims of sexual assault.

“I was actually somewhat shocked that this wasn’t state law already,” said Hertel in a phone interview.

This comes one day after it was discovered a mid-Michigan organization used 3 sex offenders as volunteers.

On the Sex Offender Registry, two of the three men list the address for the Listening Ear as a place they volunteer. The info was out in the open for state officials and the public to see but that didn’t stop the men from signing up to volunteer.

She says refusing to let them volunteer would have gone against the organization’s values.

“We value how individuals display behavior right now. We don’t look into pasts, we didn’t do background checks.”

Senator Hertel thinks this isn’t fair to the victims calling in.

“To think that they would have to then find out that the person that they’re dealing with there was someone who had committed a sexual assault, I think is just really scary, dangerous and should not be allowed,” he adds.

The Listening Ear says callers were never informed of such a history if they spoke with one of these offenders. Hertel’s proposed legislation would make such an interaction illegal. He’s not jumping to blame the Listening Ear, but isn’t waiting for change.

“We have to limit exposure to children and sexual assault victims from people who could be predators.”

He’s not the only one taking action. Michigan State University and Sparrow have both severed ties with the Listening Ear.

In a statement, MSU cites the lack of background checks as a reason for stopping referrals to the Listening Ear:

“Due to the Listening Ear’s policy to not perform background checks and screen its volunteers, MSU is no longer referring clients nor listing the Listening Ear as a community resource. When dealing with potentially vulnerable populations, MSU feels it is important that volunteers are properly trained and undergo background checks.”

Geraci stressed all volunteers go through rigorous training with professionals and that all calls are monitored by supervisors.

With that said, the three offenders are not taking calls now-but have not been dismissed from the staff either. That decision, along with whether or not to implement background checks for all current volunteers, will be decided on Sunday at a staff meeting.

6 News asked the Listening Ear to share our contact information with the three offenders in case they want to speak with us. We’ll continue following this story and be here for you with the updates.

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