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VOL. 132 | NO. 41 | Monday, February 27, 2017

Norris Seeks to Curb Senior Abuse With New Laws

By Sam Stockard

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NASHVILLE – Calling elderly abuse a “silent crisis,” state Sen. Mark Norris is leading a legislative effort to stop physical, mental and financial abuse of vulnerable adults with bills to expand protections and increase penalties.

“The elderly population is growing, and the problem is growing, and we need to put an end to it,” says Norris, a Collierville Republican. “We talk about keeping Tennesseans safe. There’s no more important segment of our society than our elders and the vulnerable among us, and we’re gonna put an end to it, and it starts today.”

A product of the Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Abuse Task Force, the legislation builds on measures passed by Norris and Rep. Kelly Keisling, R-Byrdstown, in 2016 setting up protective investigative teams in each judicial district to increase cooperation and information sharing between government agencies to protect elderly and vulnerable adults.

Norris points out elder abuse often goes unreported and frequently is perpetrated by people the victims trust the most.

“Often, because the abuser may be a family member, the individual may also be fearful of reprisal,” Norris says.

Cases of assault and financial exploitation of vulnerable adults have increased by 20 percent over the last decade, and up to one out of 14 cases goes unreported, according to legislators.

More than 41 percent of the offenses are committed by a family member, and law enforcement authorities say another 13 percent of victims have a close relationship with the perpetrator, according to legislators.

Senate Bill 1230 would codify elder and vulnerable adult abuse and exploitation, creating Class C and Class D felonies, and require those convicted to submit their names to a Tennessee Department of Health Abuse Registry. Fines also would be increased for convictions.

Senate Bill 1192 would change the Tennessee Securities Act of 1980, giving the Department of Commerce and Insurance commissioner authority to restrict exemptions and increase penalties in cases where seniors and adults with certain mental and physical dysfunctions are the victims of altered documents.

Senate Bill 1267 requires the Department of Financial Institutions to work with financial service providers, the Commission on Aging and Disability and Department of Human Services to find ways to promote awareness of the dangers of financial exploitation.

Says Sen. Todd Gardenhire, a Chattanooga Republican sponsoring the legislation, “It’s been a challenge to work on this subject because it’s so emotional with a lot of people. I’ve seen in my career as a retired financial adviser a lot of abuse that’s gone on with people’s children, mostly of parents that are elderly.

“They come in and they suck the money out of their accounts and they spend it on things that aren’t associated with taking care of mama or daddy or grandparents, and that’s probably the saddest part about watching all this happen.”

Bankers would be given immunity while retaining contractual obligations to conduct transactions in cases they see the potential for abuse, officials say.

Tim Amos, executive vice president and general counsel for the Tennessee Bankers Association, says bankers would obtain the discretion to delay withdrawals and investigate, saying, “No, I don’t think you should be sending that $5,000 wire to Nigeria today.”

He calls it an important tool to enable bankers to stop abuse because once the money is gone, “it’s gonna be very difficult to recover.”

Sen. Rusty Crowe, a Johnson City Republican, described a situation in which he went home recently and found out his 95-year-old mother was trying to borrow money from neighbors to contribute to someone running a scam.

“She’d gone to a neighbor’s house to borrow $15,000 to send to someone in Pakistan who was using a Brooklyn phone exchange to raise money,” Crowe says. “So it’s happening every day.”

Sam Stockard is a Nashville-based reporter covering the Legislature for The Memphis Daily News. He can be reached at sstockard44@gmail.com.

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