House hears bill making it illegal to share humiliating photo of senior citizen

(UM Legislative News Service) About three years ago at a nursing home in Hubbard, Iowa, a nursing assistant was fired for sharing a photograph on Snapchat of a resident with dementia who had soiled himself. At the time, the assistant wasn’t breaking Iowa law.

“In the state of Iowa, you could take a picture of a senior or a person with a developmental disability. You could hang a sign around their neck, humiliate them, put it up on social media and it’d be okay,” Sen. Tom Jacobson, D-Great Falls, said. “I asked some folks here at the state. I said, ‘Would this be illegal in Montana?’ And they said no.”

Jacobson is sponsoring Senate Bill 324, which would classify sharing a humiliating photo or video of a senior citizen who has an expectation of privacy as elder abuse.

The first offense of elder abuse is only a misdemeanor, with up to 6 months jail time and a $500 fine. But second offenses bump up to felonies, with up to 10 years jail time and a $10,000 fine.

The bill only covers seniors with developmental disabilities, like alzheimer’s or dementia. But Beth Brenneman with Disability Rights Montana said during a public hearing in the House Judiciary Committee Thursday, seniors with developmental disabilities are especially vulnerable.

“Yep, everybody’s got a camera on them these days. Unfortunately, people that really need help in the most intimate ways are really vulnerable to exploitation in that way,” she said.

The Senate voted 40-10 to pass the bill earlier this month.

Tim Pierce is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Greater Montana Foundation and the Montana Newspaper Association.