DMR: Bill targeting the abuse of elderly Iowans advances
Feb. 13, 2014
Written by William Petroski
Legislation that cleared an Iowa Senate subcommittee on Wednesday broadly addresses abuse of elderly Iowans for the first time — the culmination of two years of work by a state task force.
Iowa law currently covers abuse of dependent persons, but Senate File 2117 would specifically focus on elder abuse, said Sen. Mary Jo Wilhelm, D-Cresco, who chaired the subcommittee. Lawmakers drafted the legislation in consultation with the Iowa Department on Aging, the Iowa attorney general’s office and others, she added.
The legislation, which also is pending in the Iowa House, includes provisions for emergency orders to remove elder abuse victims and an elder resource and referral program. The Senate bill moves to the Senate Human Resources Committee.
“What we are trying to do is to make people aware that there is elder abuse, how we can educate people, and how we can prevent it from happening and give them some recourse when it does happen,” Wilhelm said.
While many are concerned about physical abuse of the elderly, Wilhelm said one of the biggest concerns she hears from constituents is the financial exploitation of older people.
The legislation defines elderly Iowans as age 60 and older, which is consistent with the federal Older Americans Act. It provides civil and criminal protections and defines elder abuse as the abuse, neglect or financial exploitation of an older individual.
The bill directs the Iowa Department on Aging to establish an elder resource and referral program. The state agency would be instructed to work with area agencies on aging to implement the program through designated “elder rights specialists” and through local networks of interested persons and groups.
The legislation allows petitions to be filed for protective order or temporary or emergency orders in abuse situations. A court would be prohibited from using an order to allow any person other than the older individual to assume responsibility for the benefits, property, resources, belongings or assets of the older person.
The state agency also would be authorized to compile statistics and issue reports on elder abuse in Iowa. The identities of victims would not be disclosed.
The Senate bill is sponsored by Sen. Amanda Ragan, D-Mason City, while House File 2106 is proposed by Rep. Lisa Heddens, D-Ames. The Iowa attorney general’s office and the Older Iowans Legislature are officially listed in support of the Senate bill, while a host of others — including AARP of Iowa, the Iowa State Bar Association and the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church — are listed as undecided.
During a subcommittee hearing, most of the discussion focused on technical matters within the bill and definitions.
However, Susan Cameron, a lobbyist for the Iowa Health Care Association and the Iowa Center for Assisted Living, said the Senate bill appears to go far beyond the task force recommendations. She said mechanisms are already in place to address elder abuse.
“We don’t want to pile onto a good system that we believe is already working well,” Cameron said, adding the organizations she represents remain undecided on the legislation.
AARP lobbyist Anthony Carroll, whose group claims nearly 380,000 Iowa members, said some good ideas are contained in the bill, but he is proposing some changes. Those include making certain that data about the incidence of financial exploitation of older persons, which is often under-reported, is public.
“We want to make sure that we have a workable bill that is well thought out to make sure that it is a system that Iowans can work with and understand,” Carroll said.