Elder Abuse Mandatory Reporting Bill Clears CO Senate

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The Meyer Law Firm has worked with Charles Carter and Sen. Hudak to get this bill passed. Charles Carter has been trying to get mandatory reporting of elder abuse passed in Colorado for 17 years.  Colorado is one of only three states that does not have such a law.  The bill would require doctors, nurses, social workers, clergy members, law enforcement officers, nursing home staff, home health care workers and others to report any neglect or abuse of anyone over the age of 70 within 24 hours of observing the abuse. Those who willfully fail to report abuse could face a fine up to $750 and up to six months in jail, the Denver Post reports.

“We have an obligation to prevent crime and to lessen the effects on victims and that’s what this bill does,” Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, sponsor of the legislation, told the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

Hudak said similar legislation has been proposed for decades, but there always were concerns about how it would be paid for because increased reporting of elder abuse could raise case loads for Adult Protective Services investigators. A 2005 bill was vetoed by then-Gov. Bill Owens.

However, Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, is recommending $5 million in the 2013-14 state budget for elder abuse programs. State revenues are starting to recover after several years of faltering tax collections.

Under the bill, “abuse” includes bodily harm as well as confinement or sexual abuse. The bill also addresses caretaker neglect and it covers financial exploitation as well.

Supporters amended the bill in committee to clarify that while clergy members are mandatory reporters under the bill, the “penitent privilege” that allows a clergy member to keep certain information confidential, such as in the case of a parishioner giving a confession to a priest, still applies.

No one testified against the bill on Wednesday, but Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, said he had concerns about the clergy exception. Lundberg said the language essentially mirrored the same section of a mandatory reporting bill in child abuse cases and which had caused confusion in certain cases.

“We don’t know what that (language) means when the rubber meets the road,” Lundberg said.

Deputy Attorney General David Blake, who helped work on language in the bill, acknowledged there would be “incredibly difficult situations that arise” under the bill. But Blake said there is considerable case law regarding the penitent privilege judges can work from.

The Senate Judiciary Committee passed the legislation on a 4-1 vote, with Lundberg the sole vote against. The bill now must go to the Senate Appropriations Committee before it can go to the full Senate.