Texas Capitol

A bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers has introduced a group of bills in response to a series of suspected murders in Dallas-area senior living communities thought to be tied to alleged serial killer Billy Chemirmir. 

As McKnight’s Senior Living previously reported, police believe Chemirmir posed as a maintenance worker for more than a year to gain access to residents’ living quarters and then suffocated them and stole jewelry and other items to sell at area pawn shops. Most of the deaths initially were ruled to have been from natural causes until one potential victim survived and described the attack to police.

The lawmakers and families of victims say the bills would provide protections through new requirements for independent living communities, cash-for-gold shops and medical examiner procedures. The legislation would not apply to assisted living communities and nursing homes.

SB 1133, filed by Sen. Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas), and HB 3144 filed by Rep. Jared Patterson (R-Frisco), is designed to create a voluntary safety standards certification program for independent living communities. Those standards would address handling and notifying residents of crimes and “unusual accidents” within communities, registering visitors and conducting employee criminal background checks.

“We talked with my mom about financial scams. We talked about safety with my mom. We didn’t know to tell her don’t open your door unless you know who’s on the other side,” Shannon Gleason Dion, president of Secure Our Seniors’ Safety, a group formed by the families of Chemirmir’s alleged victims, told McKnight’s Senior Living. “If we had known there were unattended deaths with robberies — if we had known there were robberies — we would have had those discussions.”

Dion’s mother Doris Gleason was among Chemirmir’s alleged victims.

HB 3095, filed by Rep. Julie Johnson (D-Carrollton), is meant to hold independent living communities liable for damages for failing to implement safety policies or procedures. The bill also would assess fines to incentivize these settings to conduct employee criminal background checks and report criminal activity to law enforcement.

Both the Texas Health Care Association and the Texas Assisted Living Association told McKnight’s Senior Living that the language within the bills would exempt assisted living communities and nursing facilities. The bills also exempt centers for independent living, referring to non-residential, private, nonprofit agencies that serve individuals with significant disabilities.

The majority of Chemirmir’s alleged victims lived in residential independent living communities for older adults, which are the type of community covered under the proposed legislation, according to an SOSS representative.

Families of Chemirmir’s alleged victims previously pressed state legislators for increased regulation of senior living communities in response to the string of suspected murders. Chemirmir is charged with 18 counts of capital murder and is alleged to be tied to at least 24 deaths of older adults, most of them senior living residents.

Lawsuits filed against some of the senior living communities where Chemirmir’s alleged victims lived maintain that operators did not do enough to protect residents. 

Other bills that are the direct result of the residents’ deaths include SB 1132, filed by Sen. Nathan Johnson (D-Dallas), and HB 3123 filed by Rep. John Turner (D-Dallas), which call for more unannounced inspections by the agency that regulates the laws on inventory control, seller information, and time between purchase and destruction at cash-for-gold and pawn shops.

SB 864, filed by Sen. Angela Paxton (R-Allen), and HB 723 filed by Patterson, would require families to be notified when a medical examiner amends a death certificate. Many of the deaths initially were ruled to be from natural causes. Families didn’t learn that murder was suspected in the death of their loved ones until Chemirmir’s arrest in 2018. 

The Dallas County Medical Examiner’s office has said that the coronavirus pandemic slowed the process of amending death certificates and identifying additional potential victims.

Chemirmir is in jail on a $17.6 million bail and faces the death penalty if convicted. He is scheduled for trial April 5.

Article updated March 17 to clarify that the proposed legislation would affect independent living communities where older adults live but not centers for independent living — non-residential, private, nonprofit agencies that serve individuals with significant disabilities.