Colorado’s new mandatory reporting of elder abuse law will require certain helping professionals to report any suspected or observed abuse or exploitation of an elderly individual to law enforcement within 24 hours. The bill was signed into law on May 16, 2013 and takes effect on July 1, 2014. The bill, as a result of an elder abuse task force established to develop the legislation, makes Colorado the 48th state to have mandatory reporting legislation on the books.
Under prior law, certain professionals were encouraged to make reports of any suspected or known abuse of an at-risk adult, defined as a vulnerable individual due to mental or physical disability or aged 60 years or older. The new law incorporates several modifications and additions to the existing law. Specifically, it adds the definition of an at-risk elder as an individual over the age of 70 and increases the age of an at-risk adult to 70 years or older. Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 18-6.5-102(2)-(3). It also clarifies the definitions of crimes against at-risk adults or elders to include undue influence resulting in conversion and caretaker neglect. Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 18-6.5-103(6), (7.5). Further, the new law sets forth the reporting and response requirements, mandating that not only must the initial report be filed within 24 hours of the suspected abuse, but also that the law enforcement agency must provide notice of the report to the appropriate county agency within 24 hours of the report. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-6.5-108(2)(b).
The exhaustive list of helping professionals mandated to report under the new law includes a wide variety of professions such as health care professionals, pharmacists, psychologists and mental health care providers, social workers, long-term care providers, clergy members, law enforcement officials and personnel, court-appointed guardians and conservators, and certain financial professionals. See Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-6.5-108(1)(b)(I)-(XVIII). An individual who fails to report under the statute or one who knowingly files a false report commits a Class 3 misdemeanor. Colo. Rev. Stat. §§ 18-6.5-108(1)(c), (4). Upon filing a good faith report, a reporting individual is immune from any related civil action, unless he or she is the alleged perpetrator of the abuse or exploitation. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 18-6.5-108(c)(3).
In order to raise awareness among the public and the reporting professionals, the Colorado Department of Human Services was required to implement an awareness program by January 1, 2014. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 26-1-105. Further, to prepare law enforcement officers to recognize and respond to incidents of elder abuse and exploitation, the Department of Law’s Peace Officer Standards Training board (“P.O.S.T.”) was required to implement training standards and programs by January 1, 2014; and, as of January 1, 2015, local law enforcement agencies will be required to employ at least one peace officer who has completed the training. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 24-31-313. No later than December 31, 2016, the Colorado Department of Human Services shall prepare a comprehensive report to assess implementation of the new law. Colo. Rev. Stat. § 26-3.1-110.
While attorneys are not on the list of professionals mandated to report, they will certainly come into contact with individuals who meet the definition of at-risk elders as well as professionals required to report. This should cause us all to be increasingly alert and mindful of the provisions set forth in the new law.