A bill that will be introduced this week in the South Carolina Senate would protect the state's senior citizens from abuse and exploitation that can now slip through legal loopholes. The bill would create the "Senior Trafficking and Exploitation Reform of 2014" in South Carolina.
Lt. Gov. Glenn McConnell, who oversees the state's Office on Aging, heard about the problem of senior exploitation as he traveled around the state recently to listen to seniors' concerns. He said an example of the kind of exploitation the bill is aimed at stopping is predators who troll emergency rooms looking for elderly people about to be discharged who don't have family members to take care of them.
"It could be where somebody picks up a senior and doesn't take them home and says, 'I'll take care of you but I need you to sign over your Social Security and your benefits to me.' And then they don't take care of them," he says.
The problem is that current state law does not protect all seniors, only those deemed "vulnerable." Lt. Gov. McConnell says the law is also unclear on financial exploitation.
The bill would increase penalties. Sen. Tom Alexander, R-Walhalla, who will introduce the bill, says, "Some of those that are abusing them (seniors) look at fines, when they're smaller amounts, as a cost of doing business. What we're trying to do is make the penalty fit the crime so that they will be punished for those actions."
The bill is modeled after similar ones passed in other states, including Florida and Alabama. Lt. Gov. McConnell and Sen. Alexander say it's important to get the bill passed because the state already has about 900,000 senior citizens and that number is expected to double in the next 15 years.
Senior Dixie Allan says she worries about being exploited after a friend's parents had a lot of personal items stolen from their home by someone they had hired to help take care of them.
"It does bother me. And I have friends and it bothers them too," she says.