LANSING, Mich. — Michigan legislators have been working hard to clean up the system that tracks child abuse.
Now both the House and Senate have passed legislation to do just that. It was presented to Gov. Whitmer on Thursday.
"We anticipate the governor's signature. And really, this is going to have a lasting impact to make sure that children are protected in Michigan," said state Rep. Kevin Hertel, D-St. Clair Shores.
Hertel and other legislators from both parties have been working together on a package of bills focused on protecting children from child abuse. It would clean up the central registry within the Department of Health and Human Services that has been up and running since the early 1970s, "to make sure that the right individuals are on it, and that folks that shouldn't be on it, aren't on it," Hertel said.
"This is a culmination of work that's been going on for seven years in the Michigan legislature and a commitment that I made to a constituent, the mother of Wyatt, to get this done," he said.
The legislation would also create the "Child Abuse Offenders Database Act" a public child abuser registry, also known as Wyatt's Law.
"What that will do is make sure that parents across our state who have children that are in the care of another adult, they will be able to find out if that adult has been convicted of child abuse, which is something that I think it's important for parents to know when their children are spending time with other individuals," Hertel said.
The law is named for Wyatt Rewoldt, who suffered severe injuries from child abuse in 2013.
"When he was one year old, he was shaken by his father's girlfriend and almost died, and Wyatt still lives with the effects of that abuse today," Hertel said.
His injuries included a fractured skull, broken ribs and torn gums. He was in a coma for almost a week on life support.
His mother Erica Hammel has been fighting for this legislation since 2015.
"If I can save one child from going through what Wyatt had to endure, this will all be worth it," Hammel said.
She has been working alongside Christyne Kadlitz, another mother from the Detroit area whose son was abused by the same woman.
Hammel says with this list they are going to be able to get a lot of people off of the list who are on it for minor things.
"But the most important thing is we can finally identify the dangerous people that are on there. And what's great about this registry is that the old registry cannot be retroactive. This one, we can include Wyatt's abuser who's out of prison now, Rachel Edwards, because the central registry would automatically already have her on there," Hammel said.
She says it hasn't really hit her yet that everything is just awaiting Whitmer's signature. But she finally feels heard.
"Children don't have rights. It's really sad," Hammel said. "Somebody needs to fight for them. And, if I can be one person to help fight for them, then I'm honored to do that."
If the legislation is signed into law, the state health department will have some time to clean up the list before it is made available to the general public.
"We're going to work with the department going forward to make sure it gets implemented in the right way. And with the end goal, I think that we all have to make sure children across the state are protected," Hertel said.
Michigan Department of Health and Human Services spokesman Bob Wheaton said in a statement that the department "has already acted in recent years to address concerns regarding the registry. As a result, the number of people on central registry has decreased from 310,091 in February 2020 to 277,023 as of last week."