Senator Mark Norris
9A Legislative Plaza,
Nashville, Tennessee 37243-0232
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©2017 Mark Norris
Norris Announces Legislation to Protect Elderly and Vulnerable Adults from Abuse
Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris announced comprehensive legislation to address abuse of elderly or vulnerable adults in Tennessee. Senate Bills 1192, 1230 and 1267 would expand systemic protection for victims of physical, mental or financial abuse and impose severe penalties on those who commit them.
The bills come from the Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Abuse Task Force. The proposals build on a new law, sponsored by Norris and Rep. Kelly Keisling (R-Byrdstown) and passed by the General Assembly last year, which set up Vulnerable Adult Protective Investigative Teams (VAPIT) in each judicial district in Tennessee to foster cooperation and information sharing between different government agencies whose purpose is to protect elderly and vulnerable adults.
“Elderly abuse is a silent crisis,” said Sen. Norris. “Crimes of elder abuse often go unreported, leaving its helpless victims to suffer silently. And, far too frequently, it happens at the hand of those whom they trust the most. Incapacitation, shame, fear of losing independence, or simply being unaware of available resources, discourages victims from reporting abuse. Often, because the abuser may be a family member, the individual may also be fearful of reprisals.”
Studies show that over the past decade, reported cases of assault and financial exploitation of vulnerable adults has increased by 20 percent or more. It is estimated that as many as one in 23 cases of elder abuse are unreported. It has also been estimated that 41.4 percent of the offenses were committed by a family member and another 13.3 percent of victims were described by law enforcement as having close relationships with the perpetrator.
Senate Bill 1230, the “Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Protection Act”, further codifies elder and vulnerable adult abuse and exploitation, creates class C and D felonies for those found guilty of committing these crimes and requires state agencies to submit offenders’ names to the Tennessee Department of Health’s Abuse Registry.
“This legislation would keep seniors and vulnerable adults safer by giving law enforcement the tools they need to prosecute dangerous individuals before they have the opportunity to commit additional crimes and harm additional victims,” said Rep. Kelly Keisling.
Senate Bill 1192 makes various changes to the regulation of securities under the Tennessee Securities Act of 1980, such as granting the commissioner of the Department of Commerce and Insurance authority to restrict certain exemptions, increasing penalties for violations where senior citizens and adults with certain mental or physical dysfunctions are victims, and altering filing and renewal requirements.
“Financial exploitation robs elderly victims of their money and their dignity,” said Sen. Todd Gardenhire (R-Chattanooga), who is a retired financial advisor. “It also can rob them of their independence and can even force them into depending on government assistance despite their best efforts to save for their golden years.”
Senate Bill 1267 requires the Tennessee Department of Financial Institutions to consult with financial service providers, the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability and the Department of Human Services to consider ways in which the entities can collaborate to promote education and awareness of the dangers to vulnerable adults regarding financial exploitation and financial theft, and explore preventative measures that can be taken by vulnerable adults to avoid such dangers.
“These three bills continue the General Assembly’s efforts to address abuse of our state’s seniors and vulnerable adults,” added Sen. Rusty Crowe (R-Johnson City), who sponsored legislation last year setting up checks on the people who are working in direct contact with the elderly in home healthcare and hospice. “These are the citizens upon whose shoulders we stand today. I am very proud of the work that our General Assembly has done and continues to do to protect them in cooperation with our Elder Abuse Task Force and other stakeholders. We will continue to look for ways to keep them from being victimized.”
The 2010 census documents the portion of the United States population over age 65 is 13.4 percent of the total population and that the fastest growing segment is those aged 85 and older.
State Senate Passes Legislation Strengthening Tennessee’s Campaign Finance Laws
The full Senate passed legislation this week to require that funds donated to a campaign be deposited and maintained in a traditional bank or credit union account insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC). Current law allows campaign funds to be invested in a private or publicly traded company, causing ethics concerns and a gap in transparency in the state’s campaign finance laws.
The legislation would put Tennessee in line with other states that limit lawmakers to maintain funds in federally-backed accounts.
Under Senate Bill 377, any investment not authorized would be prohibited and the candidate, or in the case of a multicandidate political campaign committee, the treasurer, would be subject to a civil penalty by the Registry of Election Finance of not more than $10,000 or 115 percent of the amount invested. The legislation also strengthen the state’s campaign finance laws by requiring that any interest, dividends or income earned on campaign funds by an investment made legally, such as CDs, be reported on the candidate’s financial disclosure.
County Road Relief Act — Legislation which permanently changes the way Tennessee manages its State Aid Road Grant Program to make it easier for counties to access state funds to upgrade, repair, and improve roads was approved by the Senate Transportation and Safety Committee this week. Senate Bill 700 makes permanent the County Road Relief Act of 2015 which allows a county to use state highway aid for a project as long as the county contributes at least two percent of the approved project cost or provides in-kind work as approved by the Tennessee Department of Transportation. The law is set to expire in July. Before passage of the County Road Relief Act of 2015, a 25 percent local match was required by local governments to receive funding through the State Highway Aid System, an obstacle which was too great for many of Tennessee’s more distressed counties. The law was modeled after the County Bridge Relief Act of 2014, which lowered the match to allow local governments to access unused funds in Tennessee’s State Aid Bridge Grant Program. That program has allowed counties to access unused funds to improve bridges which had fallen into disrepair.
Drivers Licenses / VISA — The Senate Transportation Committee voted this week to require the word “VISA” rather than “Temporary” to be printed on the Tennessee driver license of a citizen from a foreign country who is in the state based on that permit to enter, leave or stay for a specified period of time in the United States. Senate Bill 272 would assist in recognizing voter fraud.
Elected Attorney General — A resolution that would allow Tennessee voters to decide if they want to popularly elect the state’s attorney general (AG) is headed to the Senate floor for a final vote after being approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee this week. Senate Joint Resolution 57 begins the process of amending the State Constitution, which, if approved by voters, calls for the AG to be elected beginning with the November 2024 general election. Unlike any other state, Tennessee’s AG is appointed by the justices of the Tennessee Supreme Court for a term of eight years. The resolution calls for the AG to be elected to a four-year term, and would limit the elected AG to two consecutive terms. The amendment process requires a simple majority by the 110th General Assembly currently in session, and a two-thirds majority in the 111th General Assembly which convenes in 2019, before going to voters in a statewide referendum. The resolution also provides that the AG be 30 years of age or older, a citizen of the United States, an attorney duly licensed in Tennessee and a resident of the state for at least five years preceding the election.
Identity Theft – Legislation was passed by the full Senate this week allowing victims of identity theft to receive a new driver license with a new distinguishing number upon presenting proof of the crime. Senate Bill 912 aims to prevent identity theft.
School Counselors / Additional Services — Members of the Senate Education Committee approved a bill this week which clarifies that a certified school counselor, in collaboration with a parent, may recommend additional mental health counseling for a student without obligating the cost of that counseling to the school system. Senate Bill 341, does not change or interfere with the services already provided by the school system. Any student who receives services under IDEA law will continue to receive these services. The legislation simply eliminates the ambiguity that is often a barrier for school counselors to make this referral, which their ethics and training require, to a private counselor or therapist when the student’s needs fall outside their scope of services.
Financial Literacy – Tennessee Treasurer David Lillard told members of the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee this week that over 10,000 Tennessee students have benefited from the Department of Treasury’s Financial Literacy Program implemented in June 2012. The program has provided materials and training to nearly 4,000 K-8 educators representing 612 schools. In addition to the Financial Fitness for Life curriculum, the program also provides Tennessee schools with free access to an interactive digital platform called Vault – Understanding Money. The easy-to-use online program teaches student a wide variety of sound financial practices from how to differentiate between financial needs and wants, to setting both short and long term goals for their financial future. The Financial Literacy Program was created by legislation passed in 2010. Tennessee ranks among the top two states in the nation for bankruptcy.
Unclaimed Property –The Tennessee Treasury Department has returned a record amount of unclaimed property in 2016 to Tennesseans across the state, marking a 28 percent increase over the prior year according to Treasurer David Lillard, who spoke to the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday. In total, 41,827 claims were processed in 2016, totaling more than $34 million with an average claim amount of $817. Unclaimed property is money that has been turned over to the state by businesses and organizations that cannot locate their original owners. Each year, millions of missing dollars are returned with the assistance of the Tennessee Treasury Department helping get that money back to original owners. While $34 million was returned during 2016, there is currently $789.2 million of money and property still waiting to be claimed. You can visit the Treasury’s searchable online database at: www.ClaimItTn.gov or for those without internet access, the Unclaimed Property Division can be contacted by phone at (615) 741-6499.
Gatlinburg Wildfires – Legislation advanced through the Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee’s Revenue Subcommittee this week authorizing local governing bodies, by a two-thirds vote, to prorate real and personal property damaged by the November wildfires. Senate Bill 114 is modeled after similar legislation which granted tax relief to victims of the 2010 floods in Nashville. The legislation calls for prorating the 2016 tax assessment for a homeowner’s real property or business owner’s personal property, if the property was damaged as a result of a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)-certified disaster between September 1, 2016, and December 31, 2016. It would not become effective until approved by a two-third vote of the local governing body of the county and/or city in which the property is located. If the tax computed for the 2016 tax year has been paid prior to the proration, the victim would receive a refund under the bill. The legislation is retroactive to January 1, 2016.