Monday, January 29, 2007
Lawmakers have introduced a bill that would broaden protections for vulnerable Hawai'i residents suspected of being abused, a problem that experts say is growing among the elderly, especially in the area of financial exploitation. But opponents of the legislation say the bill goes too far because it creates a special category for seniors 75 and older, raising the question of age discrimination. Proponents say the elder component is necessary to add an extra measure of protection for the aged and to send the message that Hawai'i cares about its seniors, who comprise one of the fastest growing segments of the state's population and are among the most susceptible to physical, emotional or financial abuse. About 12 states already have elder-abuse laws citing a specific age. The proposed legislation, if enacted, would ensure that scores of suspected abuse cases that currently go unchecked in Hawai'i would at least get a cursory review by Adult Protective Services, the state agency that investigates such cases, according to the proponents. Professor James Pietsch, who heads the University of Hawai'i's Elder Law Program, said not having an elder-age component would enable some cases to slip through the cracks much like they do today. Besides, he noted, both state and federal laws already afford extra protections for the elderly in areas such as criminal sentences for physical abuse and civil penalties for consumer fraud, and this bill would accomplish something similar.What's more, Pietsch said, the legislation still would preserve a suspected victim's right to tell the state, once an initial inquiry is made, that no abuse occurred, putting a stop to an investigation. Relatives, friends, caregivers or others who know the alleged victims often are the ones who report the suspected abuse, not the alleged victims themselves.