NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed a bill into law on Tuesday that will create a statewide registry of unlicensed adult care facilities and stiffen penalties for facilities that continue operating without a license.

HB630/SB439 creates a searchable registry within the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability and moves the criminal penalty for operating a facility without a license after being placed on the registry from a class B misdemeanor to a class D felony.

“The last thing aging Tennesseans should have to worry about is being taken advantage of by the very people that are supposed to care for them,” said TCAD Executive Director James Dunn. “This law will provide transparency for Tennessee families as they look to find care for a loved one and deter habitual unlicensed operators who seek to take advantage of our most vulnerable.”

The law will take effect on July 1, 2022.

According to the state’s 2022 Elder Abuse Task Force Report, elderly and vulnerable adults residing in unlicensed facilities are especially susceptible to neglect, abuse, and financial exploitation.

The Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability in 2021 led a multiagency strike force to address cases of unlicensed facilities across the state. According to a state release, the strike force has dealt with over 100 identified unlicensed facilities across the state since January 2021.