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Vulnerable adult abuse protection

Published (5/13/2011)
By Hank Long
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Advocates want care providers who sexually abuse vulnerable adults in their care to register as predatory offenders.

Rep. Tim Kelly (R-Red Wing) sponsors HF447, which would make reforms to the Vulnerable Adults Act that would accomplish that goal. Passed 127-0 by the House May 5, the bill now goes to the Senate where Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove) is the sponsor.

The Vulnerable Adults Act was substantially revised in 1995 to include making it a crime for vulnerable adult care facility workers or caregivers to engage in sexual conduct or penetration with a vulnerable adult in their care. But the law did not include language that requires someone convicted of these crimes to register as a predatory offender.

In Minnesota, a vulnerable adult is defined as someone who receives nursing home care services or has impairments that make it impossible for them to care for themselves on a daily basis and are sufficiently impaired that they cannot protect themselves from maltreatment.

Also included in the bill is language that would increase the fourth-degree assault penalty from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor for those who know or have reason to know their target is a vulnerable adult and still assault that person because of the perceived vulnerability and cause bodily harm in the act.

Current law states that a person who assaults a vulnerable adult receives a misdemeanor penalty unless they are the caregiver of the victim, in which case it is a gross misdemeanor.

Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester) expressed concern that the increased penalty for fourth-degree assault is another example of a legislative trend to raise criminal penalties without regard to their impact on the court system.

“We seem to always, in this Legislature, be raising penalties for things, constantly ‘upping’ the penalties,” she said.

The new language states that anyone taking advantage of a vulnerable adult should be served with that same degree of penalty as those who care for the vulnerable adult, Kelly said.

“I would agree it is a strengthening (of the penalty), but in this regard I am all for it,” he said.

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