For more than two years, state Sen. Mark Herring (D-33rd) has lobbied for legislation aimed at criminalizing the exploitation of elderly or maimed citizens, only to have his proposal fail in the Senate Finance Committee.
But with his legislation, Senate Bill 222, gaining support from both parties this year, the senator says 2012 may be the year the “fastest-growing crime” in Virginia becomes more-recognizably illegal.
“When I began working on this legislation in 2009, we found that Virginia’s laws were among the weakest in the nation at protecting older Virginians from financial abuse,” Herring said in an emailed statement.
While the price tag associated with Herring’s proposal was a relatively slight $50,000 – for criminal bedding, enforcement measures – SB 222 in past years has failed because a lack of funding.
In his 2012 budget proposal, however, Gov. Robert McDonnell incorporated the cost for cracking down on elderly abuse.
The bill was discussed Jan. 23 by the Courts of Justice Committee, where Chairman Sen. Thomas Norment Jr. (R-3rd) recommended Herring’s bill and two other similar proposals be consolidated into one piece of legislation. One of the other proposal’s, Senate Bill 443, was filed by Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-27th).
Vogel’s bill, much like Herring’s, makes it unlawful to knowingly, by deception, intimidation, undue influence, coercion, harassment, duress, or misrepresentation, use, obtain, convert, or take control of people 60 years and older or a vulnerable adult (victims 18 years or older who suffer from disabilities).
Examples of elderly abuse can range from family members taking advantage of co-signed bank accounts and live-in help tricking older adults to coercion and intimidation of mentally-handicapped citizens, according to David DeBiasi, associate state director for advocacy at AARP Virginia.
DeBiasi said his organization staunchly supports statewide efforts to criminalize financial abuse of seniors.
“We say this is the fastest-growing crime for older adults,” said DeBiasi. “A lot of times people are reluctant to report it, or are just unaware it’s going on.”
Virginia’s Republican Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli highlighted financial exploitation of the elderly in his legislative agenda.
Herring’s senatorial aide, Adam Zuckerman, said on Jan. 24 that McDonnell and Cuccinelli’s support, paired with the Alzheimer’s organizations and AARP, give a strong indication elderly exploitation will finally become a major crime in Virginia.
“We have growing support this year, and no real opposition,” said Zuckerman. “It’s always been a money issue, and it seems like this year the money is there.”
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