Politics & Government

Bill to protect elderly from theft, abuse passes House

A measure aimed at limiting people’s ability to steal from or abuse vulnerable adults cleared the state House Monday.

House Bill 1316 would require people to be arrested without a warrant if they violate temporary protection orders banning them from contact with vulnerable adults, such as the elderly or disabled.

Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said the change would prove particularly helpful when someone is suspected of gaining access to an infirm or elderly person’s bank account.

Right now, a victim or a victim’s family member can apply for a temporary protection order against someone they suspect of taking advantage of a vulnerable adult.

But it can take up to a few weeks for a court to hold a hearing determining whether a permanent protection order is warranted in such cases, Lindquist said. And during that waiting period, police are not able to arrest someone for violating the temporary court order unless they go to court and get a warrant – a process that also takes time, he said.

“We want to be able to move quickly before the bank account is bled dry,” Lindquist said.

Police are already able to arrest people without a warrant for violating a temporary protection order in domestic abuse cases. Lindquist said he thinks the same rules should apply to temporary orders protecting vulnerable adults.

The legislation, sponsored by Republican Rep. Melanie Stambaugh of Puyallup, passed the House 97-0 Monday.

“There is a serious oversight in current law, where those who are susceptible to abuse are not protected,” Stambaugh said in a statement. “This bill is a critical step in preventing abuse of the elderly, and I was happy to see it pass the House unanimously.”

Lindquist said an increasing number of elder abuse cases in Pierce County now involve financial harm rather than physical harm.

Of the 70 elder abuse cases Lindquist’s office prosecuted in 2014, more than half involved financial fraud, he said.