By State Senator Tupac A. Hunter
Through their work, active community involvement and the role they play in raising their families, our senior citizens serve a vital purpose in our communities. They paved the way for you and me, and we now follow in their footsteps raising our own families and working on our own careers.

We owe Michigan’s senior citizens our gratitude and our help to ensure that their golden years are safe, productive and happy. It is our job to make certain that our seniors are treated with respect and care, and that they are both physically and financially safe. To do this I have introduced Senate Bill 907, which would impose tougher penalties for crimes committed against the elderly.

Sadly, there are an estimated 73,000 victims of elder abuse in Michigan. Abuse can include anything from physical abuse to financial exploitation, and can happen at the hands of those entrusted with their care: health care workers, guardians, and even family members.

In 2005, Gov. Jennifer Granholm created the Michigan Task Force on Elder Abuse to look into ways that we can better protect Michigan’s senior citizens. During the last legislative session, my Democratic colleagues and I introduced the “Save Our Seniors” package of bills that would have implemented recommendations in the task force report. That legislation was sent to the Senate Committee on Government Operations and died in committee at the end of the 2007-08 legislative session.

Because elder abuse is such an important issue and demands our attention, my colleagues and I are starting to introduce these bills again this session. Senate Bill 907, which I introduced as SB 1295 in the previous session, would implement some of the recommendations from the governor’s task force. Senate Bill 907 was referred to the Senate Committee on Judiciary, where I hope it will receive prompt and deliberative action.

Senate Bill 907 would impose tougher penalties for crimes committed against the elderly. The bill specifically targets crimes, such as interfering with an investigation, committed within licensed and unlicensed adult care facilities. Senate Bill 907 is important because critical evidence can be lost in abuse cases when someone obstructs an investigation. When that happens, justice is delayed and a successful prosecution of a case is made that much more difficult. By levying severe penalties for these crimes, I hope that we can discourage elder abuse and fraud. We need laws like this to protect our seniors with punishments that fit the crimes and send those who prey on the elderly to prison for a very long time.

A number of recent elder abuse cases across Michigan show the need for this kind of legislation.

In Ottawa County, a woman was sentenced to only four months in jail for neglecting her 87-year-old father and leaving him in unfit living conditions that ultimately caused his death. And right here in Wayne County, an 82-year-old man had $240,000 withdrawn from his account by his daughter, but he was told by police that he would have a tough time pressing charges since she was authorized to access the account.

Abuse and exploitation of any kind simply cannot be tolerated. Legislators and communities are obligated to work together to protect the elderly and keep their best interests in mind. Through this legislation, I look forward to making Michigan a safer, more secure place for senior citizens and their families.

(Sen. Tupac Hunter represents the 5th District, which is comprised of Dearborn Heights, Inkster and northwest Detroit. He serves as minority vice chair of the Banking & Financial Institutions and the Homeland Security and Emerging Technologies committees. He is also a member of the Commerce & Tourism and the Economic Development & Regulatory Reform Committees.)