MONTGOMERY, Ala. - Alabama lawmakers have passed two very similar bills that would make it easier to criminally charge people who abuse, neglect or financially exploit the elderly, and the sponsors say they expect the governor to sign one of them into law.
The Senate sponsor, Republican Sen. Cam Ward of Alabaster, said only one word in the measure that passed the Senate is different from the House-passed version sponsored by Republican Rep. Paul DeMarco of Homewood.
Ward said he believes the legislation will get final passage.
"We're just trying to make sure they don't get bogged down," during the final days of the 2013 session, he said.
Ward said both bills provide tools to prosecute cases like a recent one in Montgomery, where a man was accused of getting power of attorney from a 98-year old woman and then stealing $2.5 million from her.
DeMarco said his bill was written after several public hearings were held in his district in Birmingham's southern suburbs.
"We have an aging population. With changing technology, we've seen a trend of more exploitation of seniors," DeMarco said. He said he's heard stories of exploitation and identity theft victimizing senior citizens.
DeMarco said the proposals make it possible to prosecute family members who victimize their elderly relatives.
The executive director of the Alabama Department of Senior Services, Neal Morrison, said the story of 98-year-old Virginia Freck is an example of why the law is needed.
Henryetta Bailey, who now has power of attorney for Freck, said the woman has Alzheimer's.
"He was so sweet to her at first that she would have done anything he told her to do," Bailey said of the man accused of exploiting Freck.
Bailey said Freck had worked hard for most of her life and had saved much of what she earned.
"When he stopped paying her bills, she had absolutely no one to turn to," Bailey said.