Herald-Tribune Politics: One guardianship bill passes; another dies

April 28, 2015 HT Politics – One guardianship bill passes; another dies

Written by Zac Anderson

Seniors facing guardianship proceedings are likely to receive more protection after the Senate passed a bill overhauling the system and sent it to Gov. Rick Scott for final approval Tuesday. But another piece of guardian legislation offering further oversight died when the House adjourned without acting on it.

The bill heading to Scott’s desk establishes a formal system for appointing court monitors to oversee guardianships and requires those facing emergency temporary guardianship to receive prior warning, among other provisions. Senate sponsor Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said the legislation builds important safeguards into the legal system.

“The court can dramatically change someone’s life, so due process is particularly important,” he said.

Diaz de la Portilla and other senators said they were disappointed to see another bill that gave state officials more regulatory authority over guardians fail in the House.

The Senate passed both bills unanimously Tuesday, but the second piece of legislation, sponsored by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, had stalled in the House and is now dead after that chamber adjourned because of a dispute over expanding the Medicaid health insurance program for the poor. Detert said the bill was “caught in the crossfire.”

“We’re going to file that as our first bill for next year and I have every confidence that it will pass next year,” she said of her legislation, which was prompted by a Herald-Tribune investigation into guardianship abuses.

Detert’s bill required professional guardians to register with the state and would have established a system for documenting complaints, auditing professional guardians if concerns are raised and revoking a guardian’s license if warranted, she said. While expressing disappointment that the bill failed, she said the fact that it passed the Senate unanimously is significant.

“That’s really pretty good for a topic that just popped up this year,” Detert said, adding that she expects her legislation to pass both chambers next year and that the guardianship bill that did pass “does a lot of good things.”

Numerous reforms were included in the bill that cleared both chambers. The legislation makes it more difficult to suspend someone’s power of attorney during the guardianship process, attempts to limit the fees associated with guardianships and makes clear a guardian’s responsibility to act in the ward’s interest and keep accurate records.

Lawmakers have said one of the most important provisions in the bill addresses the appointment of emergency temporary guardians.

Determining whether a person is mentally incapacitated for guardianship can take weeks, with the court convening a committee of medical professions for an assessment. But if someone claims that an individual faces immediate physical or financial harm, an emergency temporary guardian can be appointed within days, with individuals often removed from their homes before having a full court hearing. While not necessarily how the system was designed to work, this is how guardianship proceedings typically begin.

The legislation that passed the Senate Tuesday requires that somebody facing emergency temporary guardianship, and that person’s attorney, receive notice that such a petition has been filed at least 24 hours before a hearing on the issue, unless it can be demonstrated that notice might lead to substantial harm for the person.

“It’s incredibly important,” Diaz de la Portilla said of the bill. “Because it’s about protecting the most vulnerable in our communities.”

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