State senate approves stiffer criminal penalties for abuse of elderly, include holding supervisors liable

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The Massachusetts state senate has approved a bill that would impose tougher criminal penalties for the abuse of the elderly. The bill would make it a felony instead of a misdemeanor to assault someone who is elderly or disabled, and the crime would carry a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

Passed Thursday, the legislation still needs to clear the state's House of Representatives and then would be presented to Gov. Mitt Romney (R) to sign before becoming law.

Current state law allows for a two-year maximum jail sentence for the abuse of a nursing home resident, while any other conviction for assault and battery, regardless of age or medical condition, carries a maximum sentence of 2 1/2 years of prison.

The proposed legislation also would make nursing home supervisors civilly liable if they "recklessly permit" an employee to abuse, mistreat or neglect a patient. The current law only permits civil cases against nursing home employees who are found to be directly responsible for abusing a patient. In addition, the bill would raise the maximum awards in such civil cases to $50,000 from $2,500.