RICHMOND, VA - Legislation to combat elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation of incapacitated adults is advancing in the Virginia General Assembly.
On Wednesday, January 27, 2021, House Bill 2018 passed the Virginia House of Delegates 100-0 and Senate Bill 1297 passed the Virginia Senate 39-0. These bills are identical proposals to close a loophole in existing law and allow adult protective services workers to seek a temporary court protective order in emergency situations in order to safeguard incapacitated adults subjected to an act of violence, force, threat or financial exploitation. The legislation was crafted at the request of elder justice advocates and various stakeholders, including the Virginia Criminal Justice Conference (VCJC). VCJC seeks to improve criminal justice in Virginia by assembling selected legal professionals and stakeholders in the field of criminal law to study and discuss issues of interest, to gather information, and, when substantial consensus can be reached, to propose legislation or rule changes to effect reform of criminal law and criminal procedure.
Commonwealth's Attorney Chuck Slemp, a member of the Virginia Criminal Justice Conference, testified in both the House and Senate committees that considered the measure. Slemp said, "This is a simple bill, but an important reform. It will provide needed protections for abused, neglected, exploited, and vulnerable adults in emergency situations. We need this new law to close a loophole in Virginia law and to fight elder abuse."
Dr. Pamela Teaster is a Professor and the Director at the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech and a recognized expert in the field of elder abuse and financial exploitation of incapacitated adults. Testifying last week in the House Courts of Justice Criminal Subcommittee, Dr. Teaster said, "Because more vulnerable younger and older adults and or/ who lack capacity are thankfully living longer than ever before, they may need protection of an emergency order to stop the hemorrhaging that could occur when a perpetrator may be beating them, threatening them, draining their accounts or all of these. This bill will allow a swift and important pause to staunch the potential bleeding – literal, virtual, or both if a person is a possible victim of harm."
A Tribute to the late Senator Ben Chafin
The legislation was originally to be introduced by the late Senator Ben Chafin in the 2021 session. After Senator Chafin's passing on January 1, Senator Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, and Delegate Mike Mullin, D-Newport News, carried the measure on his behalf in the legislature.
Slemp noted the efforts of the late Senator Chafin in assisting in this effort. He said, "We worked closely with Senator Chafin, the Attorney General's Office, judges at all levels of Virginia's judiciary, prosecutors, defense attorneys, and elder justice advocates in crafting this legislation. Senator Chafin took a particular interest in this issue and represented Departments of Social Services in his private practice. It is my hope that this important new law will safeguard a vulnerable population and will be a testament of Senator Chafin's lasting legacy of public service and commitment to protecting seniors from elder abuse. I am very thankful for the efforts of Senator Obenshain and Delegate Mullin this session to get this bill passed on his behalf."
Background and more information about the legislation:
According to the National Center on Aging, approximately one in ten Americans over age 60 has experienced some form of "elder abuse." The financial impact of these crimes is estimated at between $2.9 billion and $36.5 billion annually. Elders who have been abused have a 300% higher risk of death when compared to those who have not been mistreated. Statistics also show that elders are far more likely to be victimized by their own family members than strangers. Moreover, mental impairment and social isolation suffered by vulnerable adults makes them particularly susceptible to physical abuse, neglect, mistreatment, and financial exploitation.Source:http://www.ncoa.org/public-policy-action/elder-justice/elder-abuse-facts/.
Under current Virginia law (Va. Code 63.2-1609), a local department of social services may petition a circuit court to issue an order authorizing adult protective services on a temporary/emergency basis based on findings that the adult is incapacitated, an emergency exists, and the adult lacks the capacity to consent to receive adult protective services.
This legislation seeks to amend the definition of "emergency" to add the most common forms of elder abuse frequently seen by elder abuse prevention professionals: specifically, acts of violence, force, threats, and financial exploitation. The current law leaves a gap in the services available to vulnerable adults by allowing an emergency services order only when there is a "clear and substantial risk of death or immediate physical harm." This loophole prevents APS from safeguarding a vulnerable population group from threats, acts of non-lethal violence, neglect, fraud, or financial incapacitation and without any ability to restrict a perpetrator's actions on a temporary basis.
To close the current loophole in Virginia law, this bill would allow a court to order temporary/emergency adult protective services upon a finding that the adult is incapactiated, an emergency exists, and the adult lacks the capacity to consent to receive adult protective services. In this emergency order, the court may include conditions imposed against an alleged perpetrator.