NASHVILLE — Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Representative Kelly Keisling (R-Byrdstown), Senate Health and Welfare Committee Chairman Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), Senator Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), Representative Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland) and Representative Dale Carr (R-Sevierville) recently announced comprehensive legislation to address abuse of elderly or vulnerable adults in Tennessee. Senate Bills 1192, 1230 and 1267 would expand systemic protection for victims of physical, mental or financial abuse and impose severe penalties on those who commit them.
The bills come from the Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Abuse Task Force. The proposals build on a new law sponsored by Norris and Keisling and passed by the General Assembly last year, which set up Vulnerable Adult Protective Investigative Teams (VAPIT) in each judicial district in Tennessee to foster cooperation and information sharing between different government agencies whose purpose is to protect elderly and vulnerable adults.
“Elderly abuse is a silent crisis,” Norris said. “Crimes of elder abuse often go unreported, leaving its helpless victims to suffer silently. And, far too frequently, it happens at the hand of those whom they trust the most. Incapacitation, shame, fear of losing independence, or simply being unaware of available resources, discourages victims from reporting abuse. Often, because the abuser may be a family member, the individual may also be fearful of reprisals.”
Studies show that over the past decade, reported cases of assault and financial exploitation of vulnerable adults has increased by 20 percent or more. It is estimated that as many as one in 23 cases of elder abuse are unreported. It has also been estimated that 41.4 percent of the offenses were committed by a family member and another 13.3 percent of victims were described by law enforcement as having close relationships with the perpetrator.
Senate Bill 1230, the “Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Protection Act,” further codifies elder and vulnerable adult abuse and exploitation, creates class C and D felonies for those found guilty of committing these crimes and requires state agencies to submit offenders’ names to the Tennessee Department of Health’s Abuse Registry.
“This legislation would keep seniors and vulnerable adults safer by giving law enforcement the tools they need to prosecute dangerous individuals before they have the opportunity to commit additional crimes and harm additional victims,” Keisling said.
Senate Bill 1192 makes various changes to the regulation of securities under the Tennessee Securities Act of 1980, such as granting the commissioner of the Department of Commerce and Insurance authority to restrict certain exemptions, increasing penalties for violations where senior citizens and adults with certain mental or physical dysfunctions are victims, and altering filing and renewal requirements.
“Financial exploitation robs elderly victims of their money and their dignity,” said Gardenhire, who is a retired financial advisor. “It also can rob them of their independence and can even force them into depending on government assistance despite their best efforts to save for their golden years.”
Senate Bill 1267 requires the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions to consult with financial service providers, the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability and the Department of Human Services to consider ways in which the entities can collaborate to promote education and awareness of the dangers to vulnerable adults regarding financial exploitation and financial theft, and explore preventative measures that can be taken by vulnerable adults to avoid such dangers.
“These three bills continue the General Assembly’s efforts to address abuse of our state’s seniors and vulnerable adults,” added Crowe, who sponsored legislation last year setting up checks on the people who are working in direct contact with the elderly in home healthcare and hospice. “These are the citizens upon whose shoulders we stand today. I am very proud of the work that our General Assembly has done and continues to do to protect them in cooperation with our Elder Abuse Task Force and other stakeholders. We will continue to look for ways to keep them from being victimized.”
The 2010 census documents the portion of the U. S. population over age 65 is 13.4 percent of the total population and that the fastest growing segment is those aged 85 and older.