Elderly and disabled Missouri residents could gain new protection against financial exploitation by people who have authority over them under legislation awaiting action by Gov. Jay Nixon.
Missouri already has a law making it a crime to take financial advantage of an elderly or disabled person through deception, intimidation or force.
The bill on Nixon's desk would expand that law, criminalizing the use of "undue influence" to financially exploit a disabled or elderly person's "vulnerable state of mind, neediness, pain or agony." It could be applied to those who improperly or fraudulently use a power of attorney, guardianship, conservatorship or other fiduciary authority.
The severity of the charge and potential penalty would rise with the amount of money involved.
A violation involving less than $50 would be a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. The worst violations, involving more than $50,000, would be Class A felonies, carrying a possible sentence of 10 years to life in prison.
Norma Collins, the advocacy director for Missouri AARP, said older people with dementia and other health issues can be vulnerable to exploitation. She said the measure offers some important protections.
"This is making this a little bit stronger," Collins said. "It is eliminating some of the gaps, but it's strengthening the enforcement so that the elderly will have a little more protection."
The legislation also covers Medicaid-eligible disabled and elderly residents in nursing homes and other care facilities. People who receive funds on such residents' behalf but fail to forward money owed to a facility also could be charged with financial exploitation.
A person found guilty in those circumstances could be ordered to pay restitution as a condition of sentencing, with 10 percent of the payment go to the local prosecutor's office to help fund enforcement.
Missouri lawmakers passed the legislation in the final week of this year's session, on votes of 177-2 in the House and 31-2 in the Senate.
The bill's sponsor, Republican Sen. Kevin Engler, of Farmington, said some residents need additional protections because of their age and health.
Scott Holste, a Nixon spokesman, said the governor's office is reviewing the legislation. He said Nixon has "long been a leader on efforts to halt abuse of seniors and the disabled."
Financial abuse bill is SB689.