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Ballot Measures

Initiative Measure No. 1501 concerns seniors and vulnerable individuals.

November 8, 2016 Washington General Election
Description:

This measure would increase the penalties for criminal identity theft and civil consumer fraud targeted at seniors or vulnerable individuals; and exempt certain information of vulnerable individuals and in-home caregivers from public disclosure.

Should this measure be enacted into law?

It is currently a crime in Washington to knowingly obtain, possess, use, or transfer a means of identification or financial information of another person, living or dead, with the intent to commit any crime. In other words, it is illegal to have or use another person's identity or financial information to commit a crime. This crime is known as identity theft and is punishable as a class C felony. If, however, the identity theft involves obtaining credit, money, goods, services, or anything else valued over $1,500, it is considered a class B felony and is punishable with a longer maximum prison sentence and higher potential fines.

A person who is a victim of consumer fraud may be able to sue the wrongdoer in court to recover money or obtain other relief. Several state laws authorize these types of lawsuits and each law establishes the criteria for bringing a lawsuit and the remedies available. For example, the Consumer Protection Act permits a person who is injured by an unfair or deceptive action by a business to sue the business to stop the harm and recover damages caused by the unfair or deceptive act.

The Public Records Act generally requires government agencies to provide public records to anyone who asks for them. However, some types of records may not be disclosed by government agencies. For example, there are limitations on disclosure of certain types of financial information, including credit or debit card numbers and social security numbers. Some types of personal information may not be disclosed if the information would violate an individual's personal privacy. Disclosure of information violates personal privacy if it would be highly offensive to a reasonable person and the information is not of concern to the public. Generally, an individual's name, telephone number, and address are not considered personal information.

The Effect of the Proposed Measure if Approved

This measure would change criminal and civil laws that apply when vulnerable individuals or seniors are targets of identity theft or consumer fraud. The measure would define a "senior" as any person over the age of sixty-five. The definition of "vulnerable individual" would include a person (1) sixty years of age or older who cannot take care of himself or herself; (2) found by a court to be unable to take care of himself or herself; or (3) receiving home care services.

The measure would increase the criminal penalty for identity theft when a senior or vulnerable individual, as defined, is targeted. If a defendant were found guilty of knowingly targeting a senior or vulnerable individual when committing the crime of identity theft, the crime would be considered identity theft in the first degree and be punishable as a class B felony.

The measure would also increase civil penalties for consumer fraud that targets a senior or vulnerable individual, as defined. Any person who commits consumer fraud that targets such individuals would be subject to civil penalties of three times the amount of the actual damages.

The measure would change the Public Records Act to prohibit disclosing "sensitive personal information" of both vulnerable individuals and "in-home caregivers of vulnerable populations." The measure defines "sensitive personal information" to include names, addresses, GPS coordinates, telephone numbers, email addresses, social security numbers, driver's license numbers, or other personally identifying information. It would apply to the sensitive personal information of care providers contracted by the Department of Social and Health Services, home care aides, and certain family childcare providers. The measure provides specific circumstances when the government may disclose such information. For example, the measure would allow the information to be released to other government agencies or to a certified collective bargaining representative.

The measure also requires the Department of Social and Health Services to report to the Governor and Attorney General about any additional records that should be made exempt from public disclosure to protect seniors and vulnerable individuals against fraud, identity theft, and other forms of victimization.

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