DES MOINES – State lawmakers are being asked to revamp and toughen laws designed to combat abuse, neglect and financial exploitation of Iowans aged 60 years or older.
A bill that was the product of a two-year study on elder abuse prevention and intervention cleared a Senate Human Resources subcommittee on Wednesday. Backers of Senate File 2117 said Iowa has laws dealing with dependent abuse but there are gaps and bureaucratic hurdles when problems beset elder individuals who are living independently yet may be vulnerable.
“What we’re trying to do is make people aware that there is abuse out there and how we can go about educating people to prevent it from happening and then give them some recourse, too,” said Sen. Mary Jo Wilhelm, D-Cresco, who led the three-member subcommittee. The legislation defines elderly Iowans as age 60 and older, which is consistent with the federal Older Americans Act, she added.
The 25-member Legislature’s Elder Abuse Prevention and Intervention Study Committee recommended the Legislature and Gov. Terry Branstad develop an elder abuse law that focuses on the unique needs of older Iowans and creates definitions that protect those who do not meet the dependent adult abuse criteria.
They also said the current system and laws for protecting older Iowans are fragmented and do not meet older Iowans’ needs. The panel called for implementing a statewide elder abuse intervention system and strengthening safeguards from financial exploitation, noting the current financial power of attorney and conservatorship laws do not adequately protect older Iowans and their assets from perpetrators or from persons in a position of trust.
Susan Cameron, a lobbyist representing the Iowa Center for Assisted Living and the Iowa Health Care Association, expressed concern that provisions of S.F. 2117 go “well beyond” what the task force recommended and has provisions the industry worries would “criminalize” workers more easily with language regarding complaints brought by individuals other than law officers and county attorneys.
“The intent is good,” she said, but Iowa has a system that is working and does not necessarily need to be overhauled.
The bill directs the state Department on Aging to create an elder resource and referral program and to work with area agencies on aging to implement the program through a local network of partners and stakeholders and via elder rights specialists in each area across Iowa.
The bill also seeks to create several new criminal offenses: elder abuse assault, theft against an older individual and financial exploitation of an older individuals. The measure prescribes a series of punishments that range from misdemeanor offenses to felonies carries significant prison terms upon conviction.
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