WASHINGTON - The House voted 406-3 Monday to require amateur athletic governing bodies to promptly report incidents of abuse, a response to a sex abuse scandal in USA Gymnastics uncovered by IndyStar.
Backers of the bill hope it will pass the Senate in time to be sent to President Trump for his signature before the Winter Olympics begin Feb. 9.
"After a 2016 Indianapolis Star investigation exposed what is now known as the worst sexual abuse scandal in athletics to date, we are taking action to prevent this heinous action from ever taking place again," said Indiana Rep. Susan Brooks, the bill's lead House sponsor.
The bill would require adults who interact with amateur athletes to report suspected child abuse, including sexual abuse, within 24 hours to local law enforcement.
It also would direct the U.S. Center for SafeSport to create policies that require U.S. Olympic Committee organizations to ensure adults who suspect child abuse report it to the safe sport center.
The Center for SafeSport would be responsible for making sure abuse reports are investigated.
The center, which opened last year, was created so individual sports groups no longer have to deal with sexual abuse and other misconduct allegations on their own.
It had been in the works since 2010, but its launch was not announced until 2016, amid the IndyStar investigation into the child sex abuse practices of USA Gymnastics.
The investigation revealed that Indy-based USA Gymnastics did not immediately report many allegations of child sex abuse and that some predatory coaches were able to move from gym to gym, leaving a trail of abuse. The report also revealed that in the two decades prior to December 2016 at least 368 gymnasts alleged sexual abuse.
Since then, even more have come forward.
Larry Nassar, the former team doctor for USA Gymnastics for nearly 20 years, pleaded guilty in November to seven counts of first-degree criminal sexual conduct. He was sentenced last week to up to 175 years in prison after 156 women and girls made victim-impact statements over seven days about the abuse and anguish he caused them.
Some of their comments were read on the House floor before Monday's vote.
Former gymnasts, including Rachael Denhollander — the first to speak publicly about Nassar — are expected to speak Tuesday at a Capitol Hill news conference organized by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the California Democrat who authored the Senate version of the legislation.
Our bipartisan Senate bill to protect athletes was passed unanimously. It's supported by 270 organizations and athletes, including a number who survived Larry Nassar’s abuse. It had a hearing. We negotiated language. It was fine-tuned for months. The House needs to pass it NOW!— Sen Dianne Feinstein (@SenFeinstein) January 25, 2018
Feinstein has said her meeting last year with gymnasts abused by Nassar was one of the most disturbing and emotional meetings she's had during her 25 years in the Senate.
Groups supporting the legislation include the American Academy of Pediatrics and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
The House first passed a version in May. After the Senate passed a similar bill in November, changes were made to produce the version House lawmakers approved Monday.
Some lawmakers are also calling on Congress to investigate the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Gymnastics.
GOP Rep. Mike Bishop, the Michigan Republican who represents Michigan State University where Nassar worked, wrote in a letter to House Speaker Paul Ryan last week that a congressional investigation is needed to find out how "such a gross level of incompetence in protection of a predator was allowed to continue for decades."
Ryan spoke out in favor of the legislation the House passed Monday but has not said whether he thinks additional action by Congress is needed.
Contributing: Mark Alesia, IndyStar.
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