Assembly Passes Bills Addressing Safety of Seniors, Disabled

By EGP Staff Report

In hopes of addressing concerns over the safety of seniors and the disabled who often become the target of abuse, the State Assembly has passed two bills proposed by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell Gardens), one that could help keep the whereabouts of seniors who are the victims of abuse confidential, and another that would require background checks of those employed to provide transportation for the elderly and disabled in Los Angeles County.

Garcia proposed the bills, AB 849 and AB 971 after seeing “loopholes” in laws protecting the safety of seniors and the disabled, said Tim Reardon, her chief of staff.

He said the bills are meant to be “easy fixes” to real problems that impact the community but have not been addressed. The State Assembly unanimously passed both bills last month, but the Senate must also approve them before they can become law.

AB 849, “Keeping Seniors Safe,” will allow elderly and disabled victims of abuse to enroll in a confidentiality program that will help keep their home addresses hidden from their abusers. The “Paratransit” bill, AB 971, would give LA Paratransit; a Los Angeles County based transportation service for the elderly and disabled the authority to conduct background checks on its employees. Current law prohibits employers of this type from asking potential employees to disclose past criminal records or from investigating them on their own.

Garcia, whose district covers Artesia, Bell Gardens, Bellflower, Cerritos, Commerce, Downey, Montebello, Pico Rivera and Norwalk, said Access Service, an LA Paratransit provider, should have the right to conduct thorough background checks of its drivers before they are considered for employment.

“I wrote AB 971 because of my concern for the health and safety of the frail and elderly individuals in our communities, who depend everyday on paratransit” and do not have the ability to take public transportation on their own, Garcia said.

The proposed background checks would ensure that drivers employed by the shared-transportation service do not have criminal or DMV offenses on their record.

In her address to the Assembly Committee, Garcia said the paratransit bill would allow victims of elder abuse and adult dependent abuse to qualify for the “Safe At Home” program, which designates a special address for the victim’s mail in order to keep their real physical address hidden from their abusers.

Currently, only victims of domestic violence, sexual assault or stalking qualify for the “Safe At Home” program. Garcia said that seniors and disabled adults enrolled in the program would be protected from a “persistent abuser” who continues to stalk, harass and abuse them.

Garcia said California’s aging population means more people could become vulnerable to physical, emotional or financial abuse.

“Over the years, we have expanded protections for seniors in order to better address and redress harm,” Garcia said. “AB 849 is simply another expansion, one that will help prevent our seniors from being repeatedly victimized at the hands of the same perpetrator.”

Both bills have been approved by the assembly and are awaiting action by the Senate, which according to Reardon, could take up to two years.

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May 2, 2013  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.


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