NASHVILLE – The State Senate passed legislation sponsored by Senate Health and General Welfare Committee Chairman Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City) on Wednesday to protect elderly and adults with disabilities from abuse. Senate Bill 1852 increases punishment for adult abuse, exploitation or neglect from a Class E to a Class D felony. Crowe said the move will help district attorneys prosecute the crime, without having to meet the higher evidentiary standard required under the state’s adult abuse laws reserved for more serious crimes.
“We are hearing from some of our district attorneys that the statute with the higher standard is proving impossible to prosecute for some of our most vulnerable persons because they suffer from dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other conditions which prevent them from testifying on their own behalf,” said Senator Crowe. “As the baby boomer generation continues to age, we are only going to see a greater need to protect vulnerable adults from abuse, neglect and exploitation.”
The legislation also requires court clerks to notify the Department of Health when someone has been convicted of adult abuse so that he or she can be added to the Adult Abuse Registry. All employers of adult caretakers must check the Registry before hiring an employee. In addition, the bill creates a Task Force comprised of a variety of departments and agencies that will meet over the next several months to develop initiatives to better protect vulnerable adults.
Earlier this year, Executive Director of the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability Jim Shulman told members of the Health and General Welfare Committee that assaults on the elderly have grown over the last three years of reporting from 1,360 in 2009 to 1,492 in 2011. In addition, Shulman said underreporting of abuse may also occur due to incapacitation or abuse may be mistaken for “usual aging.”
“This bill not only helps prosecutors punish offenders, but makes sure that those who have been convicted are on the Registry to prevent them from being hired elsewhere, as well as provides a forum for comprehensive look at how we can prevent abuse of our elderly and disabled. I am very pleased the Senate has approved the legislation.”