2023 Regular Session
To: Judiciary, Division A
By: Senator(s) Boyd, England, Williams, Branning
AN ACT TO CREATE THE MISSISSIPPI VULNERABLE PERSON ABUSE REGISTRY; TO REQUIRE THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY TO ESTABLISH A REGISTRY FOR INDIVIDUALS CONVICTED OF CERTAIN CRIMES AGAINST A VULNERABLE PERSON; TO REQUIRE CERTAIN CARE PROVIDERS TO QUERY THE REGISTRY FOR EMPLOYEES AND PROSPECTIVE EMPLOYEES; TO ALLOW MEMBERS OF THE PUBLIC TO QUERY THE REGISTRY REGARDING HIRING A CARETAKER OR A PERSON WHO WILL BE IN A POSITION OF TRUST OR AUTHORITY TO A VULNERABLE PERSON; TO REQUIRE THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY TO ADOPT RULES; TO AMEND SECTION 43-47-7, MISSISSIPPI CODE OF 1972, TO GRANT CERTAIN GOVERNMENTAL AUTHORITIES AND CERTAIN PERSONS AUTHORIZED BY A COURT, INCLUDING GUARDIAN AD LITEMS, ACCESS TO REPORTS OF ABUSE, NEGLECT OR EXPLOITATION OF VULNERABLE PERSONS; AND FOR RELATED PURPOSES.
BE IT ENACTED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI:
SECTION 1. (1) The Department of Public Safety shall establish and maintain a registry, to be known as the Mississippi Vulnerable Person Abuse Registry, containing the name of any individual who has been convicted of the crime of abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a vulnerable person.
(2) The department shall establish and enforce reasonable rules governing the custody, use, and preservation of the reports and records of abuse, neglect, or exploitation of a vulnerable person used in maintaining the registry.
(3) The crime for which an individual was convicted under this act shall be confidential and shall not be used or disclosed for any purpose other than the following:
(a) A care facility as required by subsection (6) of this section;
(b) A member of the public as allowed by subsection (7) of this section; and
(c) The public for disclosure of the findings and information about a case pursuant to this act that resulted in a fatality.
(4) (a) A court of competent jurisdiction shall notify the department of any criminal conviction that arises out of a violation of this act.
(b) The department shall adopt rules prescribing the process for notifying the department as required by paragraph (a) of this subsection. The rules shall include a requirement that documentation verifying the conviction be submitted to the department.
(5) (a) Upon receiving the notifications described in subsection (4) of this section, the department, in addition to entering the individual's name and address on the Mississippi Vulnerable Person Abuse Registry, shall enter information pertaining to the offense or offenses for which the individual was convicted.
(b) The individual's information, once entered on the registry, shall remain on the registry even if the individual fulfills the obligations of any criminal sentencing against that individual except as provided in paragraph (c) of this subsection.
(c) The department shall adopt rules requiring due process that includes notice by certified mail or by personal service for individuals found to have committed acts of abuse, neglect, or exploitation under this act. The department shall adopt rules providing a process by which an individual's name and information may be removed from the Mississippi Vulnerable Person Abuse Registry.
(6) A care facility shall query the Mississippi Vulnerable Person Abuse Registry with regard to an individual who is an employee or prospective employee of the facility to confirm whether the individual has been convicted of a crime of abuse, neglect, or exploitation under this act.
(7) A member of the public may request permission from the department to query the Mississippi Vulnerable Person Abuse Registry regarding hiring a caretaker or a person who will be in a position of trust or authority to a vulnerable person.
(a) The department shall promulgate rules governing the method of request and access to the Mississippi Vulnerable Person Abuse Registry by a member of the public regarding hiring a caretaker or a person who will be in a position of trust or authority to a vulnerable person. The rules shall require a member of the public requesting access to the registry to declare the purpose for which they are requesting access and to provide their own name and address and the name and address of the vulnerable person in need.
(b) A member of the public requesting access to query the registry shall only be given access for a limited time as determined by the department.
SECTION 2. Section 43-47-7, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:
43-47-7. (1) (a) Except as otherwise provided by Section 43-47-37 for vulnerable persons in care facilities and by Section 43-7-65 for the State Ombudsman Program, any person including, but not limited to, the following, who knows or suspects that a vulnerable person has been or is being abused, neglected or exploited shall immediately report such knowledge or suspicion to the Department of Human Services or to the county department of human services where the vulnerable person is located. If the vulnerable person is a minor, then such report may be made to the Department of Child Protection Services:
(i) Attorney, physician, osteopathic physician, medical examiner, chiropractor or nurse engaged in the admission, examination, care or treatment of vulnerable persons;
(ii) Health professional or mental health professional other than one listed in subparagraph (i);
(iii) Practitioner who relies solely on spiritual means for healing;
(iv) Social worker, family protection worker, family protection specialist or other professional care, residential or institutional staff;
(v) State, county or municipal criminal justice employee or law enforcement officer;
(vi) Human rights advocacy committee or long-term care ombudsman council member; or
(vii) Accountant, stockbroker, financial advisor or consultant, insurance agent or consultant, investment advisor or consultant, financial planner, or any officer or employee of a bank, savings and loan, credit union or any other financial service provider.
(b) To the extent possible, a report made pursuant to paragraph (a) must contain, but need not be limited to, the following information:
(i) Name, age, race, sex, physical description and location of each vulnerable person alleged to have been abused, neglected or exploited.
(ii) Names, addresses and telephone numbers of the vulnerable person's family members.
(iii) Name, address and telephone number of each alleged perpetrator.
(iv) Name, address and telephone number of the caregiver of the vulnerable person, if different from the alleged perpetrator.
(v) Description of the neglect, exploitation, physical or psychological injuries sustained.
(vi) Actions taken by the reporter, if any, such as notification of the criminal justice agency.
(vii) Any other information available to the reporting person which may establish the cause of abuse, neglect or exploitation that occurred or is occurring.
In addition to the above, any person or entity holding or required to hold a license as specified in Title 73, Professions and Vocations, Mississippi Code of 1972, shall be required to give his, her or its name, address and telephone number in the report of the alleged abuse, neglect or exploitation.
(c) The department, or its designees, shall report to an appropriate criminal investigative or prosecutive authority any person required by this section to report or who fails to comply with this section. A person who fails to make a report as required under this subsection or who, because of the circumstances, should have known or suspected beyond a reasonable doubt that a vulnerable person suffers from exploitation, abuse, neglect or self-neglect but who knowingly fails to comply with this section shall, upon conviction, be guilty of a misdemeanor and shall be punished by a fine not exceeding Five Thousand Dollars ($5,000.00), or by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than six (6) months, or both such fine and imprisonment. However, for purposes of this subsection (1), any recognized legal financial transaction shall not be considered cause to report the knowledge or suspicion of the financial exploitation of a vulnerable person. If a person convicted under this section is a member of a profession or occupation that is licensed, certified or regulated by the state, the court shall notify the appropriate licensing, certifying or regulating entity of the conviction.
(2) Reports received by law enforcement authorities or other agencies shall be forwarded immediately to the Department of Human Services or the county department of human services. The Department of Human Services shall investigate the reported abuse, neglect or exploitation immediately and shall file a preliminary report of its findings with the Office of the Attorney General within forty-eight (48) hours if immediate attention is needed, or seventy-two (72) hours if the vulnerable person is not in immediate danger and shall make additional reports as new information or evidence becomes available. The Department of Human Services, upon request, shall forward a statement to the person making the initial report required by this section as to what action is being taken, if any.
(3) The report may be made orally or in writing, but where made orally, it shall be followed up by a written report. A person who fails to report or to otherwise comply with this section, as provided herein, shall have no civil or criminal liability, other than that expressly provided for in this section, to any person or entity in connection with any failure to report or to otherwise comply with the requirements of this section.
(4) Anyone who makes a report required by this section or who testifies or participates in any judicial proceedings arising from the report or who participates in a required investigation or evaluation shall be presumed to be acting in good faith and in so doing shall be immune from liability, civil or criminal, that might otherwise be incurred or imposed. However, the immunity provided under this subsection shall not apply to any suspect or perpetrator of any abuse, neglect or exploitation.
(5) A person who intentionally makes a false report under the provisions of this section may be found liable in a civil suit for any actual damages suffered by the person or persons so reported and for any punitive damages set by the court or jury.
(6) The Executive Director of the Department of Human Services shall establish a statewide central register of reports made pursuant to this section. The central register shall be capable of receiving reports of vulnerable persons in need of protective services seven (7) days a week, twenty-four (24) hours a day. To effectuate this purpose, the executive director shall establish a single toll-free statewide phone number that all persons may use to report vulnerable persons in need of protective services, and that all persons authorized by subsection (7) of this section may use for determining the existence of prior reports in order to evaluate the condition or circumstances of the vulnerable person before them. Such oral reports and evidence of previous reports shall be transmitted to the appropriate county department of human services. The central register shall include, but not be limited to, the following information: the name and identifying information of the individual reported, the county department of human services responsible for the investigation of each such report, the names, affiliations and purposes of any person requesting or receiving information which the executive director believes might be helpful in the furtherance of the purposes of this chapter, the name, address, birth date, social security number of the perpetrator of abuse, neglect and/or exploitation, and the type of abuse, neglect and/or exploitation of which there was substantial evidence upon investigation of the report. The central register shall inform the person making reports required under this section of his or her right to request statements from the department as to what action is being taken, if any.
Each person, business, organization or other entity, whether public or private, operated for profit, operated for nonprofit or a voluntary unit of government not responsible for law enforcement providing care, supervision or treatment of vulnerable persons shall conduct criminal history records checks on each new employee of the entity who provides, and/or would provide direct patient care or services to adults or vulnerable persons, as provided in Section 43-11-13.
The department shall not release data that would be harmful or detrimental to the vulnerable person or that would identify or locate a person who, in good faith, made a report or cooperated in a subsequent investigation unless ordered to do so by a court of competent jurisdiction.
(7) Reports made pursuant to this section, reports written or photographs taken concerning such reports in the possession of the Department of Human Services or the county department of human services shall be confidential and shall only be made available to:
(a) A physician who has before him a vulnerable person whom he reasonably suspects may be abused, neglected or exploited, as defined in Section 43-47-5;
(b) A duly authorized agency having the responsibility for the care or supervision of a subject of the report;
(c) A grand jury or a court of competent jurisdiction, upon finding that the information in the record is necessary for the determination of charges before the grand jury;
(d) A district
attorney or other law enforcement official * * *
(e) Federal, state or local governmental entities, social service agencies of another state, or any agent of these entities, having a need for the information in order to carry out their responsibilities under law to protect individuals from abuse, neglect, or exploitation under this chapter; and
(f) A guardian ad litem, guardian or conservator authorized by a court to act as a representative for a vulnerable person in need of protective services who is the subject of a report.
Notwithstanding the provisions of paragraph (b) of this subsection, the department may not disclose a report of the abandonment, exploitation, abuse, neglect or self-neglect of a vulnerable person to the vulnerable person's guardian, attorney-in-fact, surrogate decision maker, or caregiver who is a perpetrator or alleged perpetrator of the abandonment, exploitation, abuse or neglect of the vulnerable person.
Any person given access to the names or other information identifying the subject of the report, except the subject of the report, shall not divulge or make public such identifying information unless he is a district attorney or other law enforcement official and the purpose is to initiate court action. Any person who willfully permits the release of any data or information obtained pursuant to this section to persons or agencies not permitted to such access by this section shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.
(8) Upon reasonable cause to believe that a caretaker or other person has abused, neglected or exploited a vulnerable person, the department shall promptly notify the district attorney of the county in which the vulnerable person is located and the Office of the Attorney General, except as provided in Section 43-47-37(2).
SECTION 3. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 2023.