Committee Hears Sununu-Backed Bill To Protect Vulnerable Adults

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Ryan Donnelly of Hudson testifies Tuesday in the Legislative Office Building about a bill to protect vulnerable adults.

– Ryan Donnelly of Hudson said a bill now being considered in the Senate would have immediately protected him like a domestic violence order if the state had it in place when he was abused by a caregiver.

Donnelly, who uses a wheelchair for mobility, said the amended Senate Bill 677-FN would allow vulnerable adults to seek permanent and temporary relief from abuse, neglect or financial exploitation from anyone, instead of just people in a relationship.

He testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday that the bill “reasonably broadens” state protections and would be a benefit to fellow members of Granite State Independent Living and others.

This bill has the endorsement of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, said state Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, its prime sponsor. He said it is similar to a bill last year that was vetoed by Sununu, but what is different is that language related to confiscating guns from those accused of abuse has been removed.

“To a lot of people, that was an infringement on the Second Amendment” right to bear arms, Bradley said, and that made last year’s bill difficult to pass.

The bill doesn’t allow for the removal of an abuser’s guns, but an amendment lets victims know they may not be able to get additional protections, including the right to ask that defendants turn over their guns.

Gun rights advocates are still concerned.

Joe Hannon of the Gun Owners of New Hampshire said he is eager to work with the committee this week to find language to protect Second Amendment rights. The committee plans to work on the bill over the next few days.

Michael Thornton of Milton, a disabled veteran who cared for his father when he was dying from a cancerous brain tumor, said if someone felt he wasn’t doing enough as a caregiver they could have taken his guns away if this bill was in place when he was caring for him.

He asked how many cases there are of such abuse that “we must risk our rights” under the Second Amendment.

Another aspect of the amended bill shows adults a clear path they can take to get relief from the outset.

One would be to go to court for a domestic violence petition, and that does allow a judge to rule on guns for the alleged abuser.

Todd Fahey of the AARP of NH said there are many cases of adult abuse.

With this bill, “I can jam the brakes on this abuse immediately,” regardless of the status of the relationship be it a relative, financial advisor or neighbor.

The amendment states that prior to filing a petition for relief, the adult is made aware that they have the option of going instead for a domestic violence order that “may be available to me including the right to ask the court to order the defendant to hand over their firearms or deadly weapons.”

Amy Moore, program director for the Ascentria Care Alliance of Concord spoke in support of the amended bill.

She said the state’s first job is “to protect our most vulnerable citizens” from abuse.

“I can’t tell you the abuse and exploitation I see,” Moore said.

Attorney Penny Dean said there were problems with the amendment. She said it offers a “free pass for liars” noting a passage which states, “The filing of a petition under this chapter, including any facts alleged or findings made regarding the plaintiff’s mental or physical capacity shall not be admitted as evidence for any purpose in any other court proceeding.”

That would allow for no consequences for perjury, she said.

The bill looks to protect anyone in the state age 18 and over, but it is particularly helpful for the growing population in the state who are dealing with memory issues related to dementia, said Heather Carroll of the Alzheimer’s Association.

She spoke in support of the measure, which she said would immediately offer help to the 25,000 residents who suffer from such memory loss.

Carroll said it is of particular help for those who can lose their financial assets quickly. Once the money is gon she said it can mean the difference between whether that person gets to live out their days in their home or be forced into nursing care.

Carroll said there are currently 21 states with such laws that provide for protective orders for vulnerable adults. The bill would allow for the immediate protection of those assets.

“They have a right to their life, liberty, and property,” Carroll said.

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