DES MOINES — Iowa is just steps away from joining 49 other states in criminalizing elder abuse.

The Iowa House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday unanimously approved Senate Brief 522. The next step will be the review by the whole House. The Iowa Senate approved the bill 47-0 last year. If passed, the bill could then be enacted.

“I’m so glad this bill can finally pass,” said Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines, who noted that Iowa is the only state without a criminal elder abuse law. “We have been working on this for many years. A lot of people have been working on the right language and we could be at the last need to get it right.

Bill Manager Rep. Dustin Hite, R-New Sharon, agreed that “we can all share the goal of protecting older Iowans, especially those who may be more vulnerable.” The challenge, he added, was not to criminalize carers “who are trying to do their best, sometimes in a very, very difficult situation”.

According to AARP Iowa, elder abuse takes many forms. In many cases, the victims know the attackers. In some cases, they are family members. According to the National Council on Aging, about one in 10 Americans age 60 or older has suffered at least one form of elder abuse.

In Iowa, the state Department of Social Services saw a 37% increase in reports of dependent abuse between the first half of 2020 and the second half of 2021, with 5,800 cases. However, about half of these reports were dismissed by the department because they did not meet the existing legal definition which states that the victim must be classified as a “dependent adult” and the perpetrator must be a ” official guardian.

SF 522 would close that gap and better protect all older Iowans from abuse, according to AARP Iowa.

“Today we move one step closer to protecting vulnerable Iowans from elder abuse,” said AARP Iowa Advocacy Officer Anthony Carroll. “We thank the House Judiciary Committee for its bipartisan support for this critical bill and look forward to working with the entire Iowa House to get this legislation across the finish line in 2022. “

The bill establishes several crimes, including assault of an elderly person, who is defined as being 60 years of age or older. Charges would range from a misdemeanor to a Class D felony, depending on the circumstances of the assault.

The bill also provides criminal penalties for a person who “intentionally commits elder abuse” if the injuries to the older person are serious.

SF 522 also includes a felony of financial abuse of an elderly person. It occurs when someone who is in a position of trust with an older adult knowingly uses undue influence, deception, coercion, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, or extortion to gain control of benefits, property or other assets. Criminal penalties range from a felony to a Class B felony depending on the amount of assets involved.

“It is unlawful for any person to abuse, emotionally abuse, neglect, isolate or sexually exploit an older person,” the bill states.