OLYMPIA (AP) — Gov. Jay Inslee has signed a bill that seeks to better protect vulnerable adults against financial exploitation and neglect.

The measure, signed Wednesday, creates a new crime of theft involving a vulnerable adult — any person 18 years or older who is clearly mentally or physically unable to care for himself or herself or suffers from a cognitive impairment.

The new statute would rank the crime at a higher seriousness level of theft. Currently, for a standard theft offense, a person could serve zero to 90 days in a county jail if they have no prior criminal history. The new offenses could force an offender who has no priors to serve up to 12 to 14 months in prison.

Under the measure, the standard of intent for criminal mistreatment cases would change from "recklessness" to "criminal negligence," something prosecutors have said was needed to make it easier to prove in abuse cases.

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