Prosecutors tell us elder abuse is a growing problem in our area, but a new bill in the Tennessee legislature could mean stiffer penalties for those who harm our older community members.

Earlier this month a Sullivan County woman was charged with willful abuse, neglect or exploitation of an adult after police say she neglected to properly care for a 75-year-old for whom she was the caretaker. Click here to read more.

As the Baby Boomer population grows older, there is a need for more caretakers. Sullivan County District Attorney Barry Staubus says some of those caretakers have been abusing their power and the elderly. "With more people growing older and having more caretakers, we're seeing more physical abuse and neglect of elders but we're also seeing more financial crimes," he said. 

Staubus tells us they aren't just seeing physical or mental abuse. "That can be taking their drugs so they can't use drugs for their own benefit, or the reduction of pain. It can be taking their money or it can be taking their credit cards," he said. 

Staubus and other Tennessee lawmakers are hoping a new bill could help the problem and put those convicted behind bars longer. "A Class E felony in Tennessee is a range of 1 to 6 years depending on the defendant's criminal history. A D felony means the punishment could go from 2 to 12 years," he explained.

Tennessee State Senator Rusty Crowe sponsored the bill. He tells us it also requires anyone who is convicted to register on the State Elder Abuse Registry. "When employers try to employ these people, they'll be able to find that name on the registry and know that they probably shouldn't hire them because they have a history of abusing the elderly," he said.

A third part of the bill also forms an elder abuse task force that will be made up of law enforcement, prosecutors, adult protective services, and others to see if additional changes need to be made to the law. "It'll be an approach that we haven't taken before, to pull the knowledge and experience and the experiences we're seeing with the elderly out there," says Crowe. 

District Attorney Barry Staubus tells us this is a step in the right direction. "It's a welcome recognition that this is a growing area of criminal law, unfortunately," he said.

The bill passed in the Senate earlier this week. Senator Crowe tells us the bill is now going to the House of Representatives; he hopes it'll pass sometime next week.