By Danielle Nordine
As Democrat and Republican lawmakers and other supporters looked on, Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill Wednesday that makes intentional abuse and neglect of vulnerable adults a felony.
The bill also strengthens penalties for people who use restraints to harm a child.
Dayton said he was “proud to sign the bill” protecting the state’s most vulnerable, the elderly and children, and praised the bipartisan efforts.
“This is a perfect example of two parties coming together to benefit the people of Minnesota,” bill author Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said.
The abuse or neglect includes depriving a vulnerable adult of food, shelter, supervision, clothing or health care.
Rep. Steve Gottwalt, R-St. Cloud, said the stories he has heard about such abuse are “outrageous” and penalties needed to be strengthened. Before this law, the most severe charges were gross misdemeanors with no prison time.
Great bodily harm would carry up to 10 years in prison, up to $10,000 fine or both, while substantial bodily harm would bring five years in prison and-or up to $5,000 in fines.
The proposal has come up in the past but faced some concerns from the health care industry.
“It’s a bill I kind of chased for 10 years,” Limmer said.
The bill signed Wednesday strikes a compromise to protect health care workers who might be understaffed while strengthening intentional neglect and abuse penalties, supporters said.
“It was hard but it was necessary,” Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman said of coming to a resolution on the proposal.
Freeman said such cases come up five or six times a year and the change makes Minnesotans safer.
The Minnesota Nurses Association, which worked on the bill, praised those involved in its passage.
“I’m so proud of our nurses and the other healthcare workers who stood up, spoke out and made sure our most vulnerable patients are better protected,” MNA President Linda Hamilton said.
Minnesota is the first state to make this crime a felony while protecting the rights of the workers, the MNA said.
Democrat Rep. Jeanne Poppe of Austin included the child restraints provision. It stemmed from a 2011 case where a child was chained to his bed every night, but the parents were charged with a gross misdemeanor.
The bill had strong bipartisan support in the House and Senate.