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Romney Signs Bill to Protect Elders and the Disabled

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Law adds new crimes, boosts penalties for those found guilty of abuse

Governor Mitt Romney today signed into law a new measure that increases the criminal and civil penalties for those who abuse, neglect or exploit the elderly and disabled.

"There are cowards in our society who prey on our elderly and disabled citizens because they think they are easy targets," said Romney. "This new law gives prosecutors the tools they need to do their job and punishes those who victimize our most vulnerable citizens."

Romney noted that there were more than 3,100 confirmed cases involving abuse, neglect or exploitation of an elder or disabled individual in Massachusetts last year, which he termed "unacceptable."

The new measure broadens the law relative to the authority of prosecutors to file civil actions against persons who abuse, mistreat or neglect patients or residents of a hospital or nursing home. It permits recovery against one who recklessly permits another to commit the prohibited acts.

It also increases criminal penalties up to $20,000 depending upon the seriousness of the crime, and second or subsequent offenses would be punishable by up to 20 years in jail.

"This legislation will help protect some of our most vulnerable citizens - our seniors and the disabled," Attorney General Thomas Reilly said. "Not only does this new law increase criminal penalties for cases of abuse against the elderly, but it will also help us more effectively prosecute nursing home supervisors who allow a pattern of abuse and neglect to occur in their homes."

"I am very happy that Governor Romney has signed this very important bill, which strengthens the penalties against those who prey on the elderly or disabled," said Edna Stamp, who advocates on behalf of elders. "I was a victim of abuse myself and the Governor's action today lets me know that elders can be safe in Massachusetts."

"With the passage of this bill, our Commonwealth is providing seniors with the security they deserve and need," said House Judiciary Committee Chairman Eugene O'Flaherty. "I am pleased that the Legislature and the Governor agree on the importance of protecting seniors from abuse and neglect."

Advocates for the disabled hailed the new law for expanding protections and increasing penalties for abuse of individuals with disabilities.

"This law reinforces the importance of preventing further abuse to individuals with disabilities and elders, regardless of where they live," said Leo Sarkissian, Executive Director of the Association of Retarded Citizens (ARC).

The new legislation also makes a number of changes to existing law to remove ambiguity and allow for more effective prosecution by specifically defining terms such as "abuse," "mistreatment," "bodily injury," "serious bodily injury" and "sexual assault."

"This legislation sends a strong message to would-be criminals who target elders and persons with a disability: You will be held accountable and punished for targeting our most vulnerable citizens," said Elizabeth D. Scheibel, District Attorney for the Northwestern District in Northampton.

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