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MN Ponders Tougher Penalties for Abuse of Vulnerable Adults

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January 16, 2012

ST. PAUL, Minn. - AARP Minnesota is supporting a push to toughen penalties for those who abuse vulnerable adults, such as the elderly and people with disabilities. A bill that would make intentional neglect a felony crime will be introduced during the 2012 Legislature.

Its sponsor, Senator Warren Limmer, says he's hoping for bipartisan support.

"After all, everybody's got a mom and a dad that we are looking out for, or maybe a brother or a cousin in the disability category. And we just want to make sure that, if they are abused, there is a criminal sanction to pursue justice for these individuals."

Limmer says the current law means perpetrators often get away with little more than a legal slap on the wrist. His bill would increase the penalty to put people behind bars for years, depending on the nature of their crime.

The state senator adds that it isn't about punishing mistakes, but about behavior clearly intended to result in serious injury or death.

"To allow a person to lay in his bed, lay in his own waste, never get cleansed, hardly get fed; that type of thing. Now, that's going above and beyond and into a criminal definition of what negligence really would be."

Amy McDonough, communications director for AARP Minnesota, says her organization fully supports the proposal, because it will also open a dialogue on the matter of vulnerable adults, a growing issue as the nation continues to grow older.

"It's going to give us an opportunity to talk about elder abuse and how to prevent it, how to spot it, so as members of the community we can take better care of each other and watch out for people who might be in situations where they are very vulnerable."

McDonough says neglect often happens in isolation and only a small number of cases are reported, so it's important to keep an eye on more fragile friends and neighbors.

"And use the networks that we have, use our churches and our community action agencies. Every county in Minnesota has a line where you can report a situation with a vulnerable adult. The county is required to take that report and follow up on it."

The crime of felony neglect would carry a maximum prison sentence of 10 years. Minnesota currently is one of only five states without this type of felony-neglect statute.

More information is at aarp.us/xvEsPf.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN