GOP legislators oppose abuse of the elderly

News release from Senate Republican Caucus

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) today 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,” said Sen. Norris. “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,” said Rep. Keisling.

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 Sen. 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.”

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Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.
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