Elder Law of Louisville's Blog

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Legislative Update

Two measures aimed at protecting elderly and vulnerable adults won final approval Friday from the General Assembly.

But with only three days left in the current legislative session, a bill to create a registry of people who abuse adults — a priority for advocates for the elderly and disabled — remains stalled in the Senate.

House Bill 101, to create a registry similar to the one the state maintains for child abusers, is still before the Senate Judiciary Committee. And Sen. Tom Jensen, the London Republican who is chairman of the committee, said he isn’t sure whether it will pass this session,

He said Senate leaders are still trying to determine which bills to pass in the remaining time available.

Advocates argue that an adult registry would better protect those who, because of age or disability, are especially vulnerable to abuse and exploitation by caregivers. Even though the session is nearly over, they are still working on behalf of HB 101.

“I am always hopeful that people will do the right thing,” said April DuVal, executive director of the Council on Developmental Disabilities, an advocacy group in Louisville. “Politics shouldn’t get in the way of protecting people who are vulnerable.”

The two bills approved Friday are House Bill 164, designed to streamline Kentucky’s guardianship standards, and HB 52, to prevent people convicted of abusing adults from inheriting from their victims or managing their affairs.

HB 164, sponsored by Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, will allow Kentucky to recognize legal guardians from other states. It also would allow states that have adopted similar reciprocity laws to recognize guardians from Kentucky.

And HB 52, sponsored by Rep. Joni Jenkins, D-Shively, bars anyone convicted of abusing or financially exploiting an adult from serving as a guardian, power of attorney or executor for the victim, as well as from gaining an inheritance.

Gov. Steve Beshear has said he supports and will sign the bills.

Sen. Julie Denton, R-Louisville, who supports the adult abuse registry, said she thinks it remains hung up because of concerns by some lawmakers that people placed on the registry wouldn’t get due process. However, the bill provides for an appeal procedure similar to that of the child abuse registry.

The Courier-Journal reported in a three-day series last year that reports of abuse or neglect involving elderly or disabled adults are rising rapidly and that many alleged perpetrators are not prosecuted for criminal offenses because victims are too elderly or impaired by problems such as dementia to testify.

The registry would list those persons found by Kentucky Adult Protective Services to have abused, neglected or financially exploited adults. Alleged perpetrators would have the right to appeal, and no one would be placed on the registry until appeals are exhausted.

Meanwhile, advocates noted that a recent federal study found 92 percent of nursing homes employed at least one person who has been convicted of a crime. And that, they contend, shows the need for better background checks on people who care for vulnerable adults.

The federal study, released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, found that 5 percent of nursing facility employees had at least one criminal conviction.

Lawmakers filed a half-dozen bills this session aimed at better protecting adults, including one by Sen. Tom Buford, R-Nicholasville, to require all nursing home employees — including food service workers and custodial staff — to undergo background checks. Currently only direct care staff, such as nurses, must undergo such checks.

But that bill never got a hearing in the Senate.

DuVal said an adult abuse registry might be a way to catch at least some nursing home workers found to have mistreated adults.

“It’s just a basic protection for older people and disabled people,’’ she said.

The legislature also continues to work on filling a $166.5 million gap in the Medicaid budget.  The House and Senate have competing plans.  Both sides have vowed to fight each's plan, so a joint committee is expected to be convened.  See the 2 previous posts on this blog for more information about this issue.


Courtesy Courier-Journal

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