Sparks Working to Protect our Most Vulnerable

This session I am working on two bills designed to increase protections for vulnerable children and seniors. The first bill strengthens our child abuse laws and the second increases penalties for those who abuse and neglect Minnesota seniors.
On Feb. 8, I introduced a bill to increase penalties against child abusers in Minnesota by strengthening the current law. This legislation was written in collaboration with the Mower County Attorney’s office, and was partially in response to a recent child abuse case where the parents unlawfully restrained their two young sons and could only be charged and sentenced with a gross misdemeanor.
I think most people had the same reaction as I did when the couple was sentenced to serve only one year in jail – this just doesn’t seem right. The penalties for chaining a child to his crib, withholding food and not allowing a child to use the bathroom, should be harsher. How could parents abuse their kids like this and walk away with only a year in jail? County attorneys are constrained because substantial bodily harm must be proven to convict child abusers of a felony.
My bill changes the level of harm in the unreasonable restraint of children statute from “substantial bodily harm” to “demonstrable bodily harm.” This law change will allow for stiffer penalties for abusive parents that subject a child to unreasonable restraint for a prolonged period, in a cruel, excessive manner, which results in bodily harm. This is a serious crime and should be treated as such.
I am also working on a bill to protect our seniors from neglect. The vast majority of caregivers and family give their aging parents and grandparents the love and respect they deserve. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case, and too many of our senior citizens suffer from abuse or neglect. To address this problem, I am a co-author of a bill to help keep our seniors safe and healthy by increasing penalties to punish abusive or neglectful caregivers.
The problem with current law is that Minnesota treats neglect of an adult as a misdemeanor, so it is difficult to prosecute people who neglect vulnerable seniors. Minnesota is only one of five states that do not have a felony level penalty for criminal neglect. This bill increases the penalty to a five-year felony if the actions – or inactions – of a caregiver result in substantial bodily harm. This could be a bone fracture, impairment of an organ, or disfigurement. A person could be charged with a ten-year felony if it results in great bodily harm or creates a high probability of death.
Working on bills like these, designed to protect Minnesota’s most vulnerable, is quite a privilege. I sincerely hope both of these pieces of legislation become law and more children and seniors are protected through these statutory changes.
As always, it is an honor to represent Southern Minnesota as your State Senator. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions or concerns. I can be reached in Room 19 at the State Office Building, St. Paul, MN 55155. My phone number is 651-296-9248 and email is sen.dan.sparks@senate.mn.
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Senator Dan Sparks
Dan Sparks represents District 27, which includes all or portions of Dodge, Faribault, Freeborn, Mower, and Steele counties in the southeastern part of the state.

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