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Sen. Harman wants to veto senior rights bill

Costa Mesa's Republican has sent Gov. Brown a letter to overturn S.B. 586, which helps protect senior citizens from fraud.

September 28, 2011|By Joseph Serna

In late August, state Sen. Tom Harman (R-Costa Mesa) missed a vote on a bill that would stiffen penalties against people who defraud senior citizens and tighten banking regulations.

Harman's absence had no bearing on the outcome, as Senate Democrats easily approved Senate Bill 586 in a 25-13 vote, with Republicans almost unanimous in their opposition.

But it was what Harman did next — sending Gov. Jerry Brown a letter Sept. 8 urging him to veto the bill — that left the bill's biggest proponent puzzled.

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"It just struck me as odd, when I found out that he represented such a large contingency of seniors, why you would do that?" said Liz Sanders, a Woodland Hills resident whose mother was victimized by her caretaker and has made this bill her solo pursuit for almost a year. "I'm thinking, 'You're up there in age; you're not that far up from this benefiting you.'"

In 2009, Sanders' mother, Bette Isenberg, was bedridden, suffering from a multitude of health complications. Unable to go to the bank or sign her name, Isenberg's caretaker used a signature stamp to handle Isenberg's finances.

Within a year, that caretaker would be sentenced to more than two years in prison for grand theft.

The woman had stolen more than $750,000 of Isenberg's money, in one instance opening up a $300,000 bank account thanks to the signature stamp and a letter to the bank.

"Just with a stamp," Sanders said. "A stamp."

S.B. 586, authored by Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills), would double the fines for defrauding seniors, regulate how California banking institutions issue signature stamps, and funnel money from convictions to county adult protective services.

The bill is sponsored by the American Assn. of Retired Persons (AARP), the County Welfare Directors Assn. and the Los Angeles district attorney's office, among others.

"These stakeholders could neither indicate the frequency with which signature stamps are used by account-holders nor the frequently (sic) with which signature stamps are used to perpetrate fraud or to steal from account-holders," Harman wrote in his Sept. 8 letter to Brown. "The Legislature, in essence, is 'protecting' account-holders from a problem which may not even exist!"

The bill is opposed by the California Bankers Assn. — a donor to Harman's most recent campaign — and the California Independent Bankers.

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