- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 6, 2016

PIERRE, S.D. (AP) - A task force formed to tackle the issue of elder abuse in South Dakota wants to expand the state’s criminal laws to include emotional and psychological abuse of elders and adults with a disability in addition to physical abuse.

The task force, which issued its recommendations on Wednesday, said that 38 other states criminalize both assaults and emotional and psychological abuse, and it is recommending that the 2016 Legislature amend the state’s criminal statutes. It also seeks to increase the penalty for theft by exploitation of an elder or adult with a disability and clarify the standards for reporting the abuse, neglect or exploitation.

“Given the aging profile of this country’s population, upward trends in elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation are likely to continue,” the task force wrote in its report. “South Dakota is no exception to this dynamic.

The panel, created by the 2015 Legislature, includes three state senators, three state representatives, three members chosen by Gov. Dennis Daugaard, seven members appointed by Supreme Court Chief Justice David Gilbertson and one member appointed by Attorney General Marty Jackley.

It offers 16 recommendations to the 2016 Legislature, suggesting that lawmakers:

- Create civil rights of action that include protection orders and the ability to recover damages from exploitation.

- Support efforts to revise the definition of “severe mental illness,” a basis for involuntary mental commitments, to exclude dementia patients.

- Employ a new state prosecutor and investigator specializing in elder abuse.

- Create a form for establishing a durable power of attorney for financial decisions and amend statutes to make sure a guardian or conservator divests of conflicts of interest.

Other recommendations included educational resources and background checks and monitoring for proposed guardians and conservators. The panel also recommended no action regarding the use of arbitration in long-term care contracts and suggested the decline to create a central registry for elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation

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