Our View of the Legislature: Guardianship

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Legislative committees have acted on some guardianship-related bills, but there are several more still be considered.  Still to be decided:

There are three bills relating to Supported Decision Making that have yet to be decided.

On Monday, February 3, 2020, a House subcommittee will review a proposal for supported decision making.  HB 1321 will be in the Behavioral Health subcommittee of Health, Welfare and Institutions, starting at 8:00.  The subcommittee meeting will be on the 4th floor of the Pocahontas Building, at 9th and Main.  (If you plan to attend this meeting, please remember to allow sufficient time to get through security.  On Monday mornings, in particular, there seem to be longer lines at security than on other days.)

Delegate Kay Kory’s bill (HB 1321) recognizes the legality of “supported decision making” in lieu of guardianships.  HB 1321 and an identical Senate bill being offered by Senator Dunnavant (SB 585) are the recommendation from the Joint Commission on Health Care.  The bills allow a person with an intellectual or developmental disabilities to appoint a “supporter” to assist with decision-making.  The bill also requires consideration of less restrictive alternatives before the most restrictive tool, guardianship, is imposed. The Senate companion bill is in the Judiciary Committee and may be heard as soon as Monday afternoon.

SB 352 (Lucas) also recognizes “supported decision making” but with a much less complicated mechanism than either HB 1321 or SB 585.  Senator Lucas’ bill is also assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee and could be heard as early as Monday, February 3rd.

dLCV strongly endorses all efforts to recognize supported decision-making.  We see a value in the less complex process captured by Senator Lucas’s SB 352.  Some advocates in the elder rights community express hope that the tool could be extended to elders who need assistance with decision-making.  One group, however, comprised of lawyers who act as guardians, opposes all recognition of supported decision making.

Guardianship Legislation Still Active:

HB 304 (Hope) requires a petition for guardianship to list certain identifying characteristics of the person for whom guardianship is sought.  Advocates are concerned about the protection of confidential information.  The bill has been approved by a subcommittee, amended so that the information will be filed under seal.  The amended bill will be before the full House Courts of Justice Committee.

In HB 862, Delegate Levine proposed a complex process intended to protect the right of a person who has a guardian to be able to have visitors of their choosing.  However, the public guardian program identified that the proposed process will have significant cost to the program, requiring a budget amendment to the state budget.  Delegate Levine had not submitted a request for a budget amendment.   In order to avoid the costs to the state budget, when the bill came to subcommittee, Delegate Levine proposed offering fewer protections to those in the public guardian program (a program that serves only people with limited financial resources).  As a result, dLCV, Virginia Poverty Law and others could no longer fully support HB 862.

The subcommittee made significant changes to the bill, including combining it HB 841 (below).  At this writing, it is not clear what the proposed bill does.

HB 841 (Murphy) requires the appointment of counsel for the person in the guardianship proceeding, notice to specific family members, payment of attorneys’ fees if a petition is brought in bad faith, and the presence of the person at the guardianship proceeding, if at all possible. The bill was incorporated into HB 862 above.  After significant debate, both HB 841 and HB 862 went by for the week, meaning that no action has been taken yet.

SB 214 (Sutterlien) requires a guardian ad litem to review an IEP when the person in the guardianship proceeding is between 17 and 21.  The bill has been approved by the full Senate.

HB 1166 (Wampler) and SB 308 (Stanley) make it a felony for a guardian or conservator to file a knowingly false statement with the court.  SB 261 (Chafin) likewise makes it a crime to do so, but only a misdemeanor.  The bills are in House Courts and Senate Judiciary committees.

SB 1072 (Mason) prohibits a court from appointing a lawyer or firm as guardian if that firm represents the petitioner in any other matter.  dLCV believes this bill is in response to media articles describing questionable practices by hospitals seeking to discharge patients.  The bill will be heard by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

No Longer Active

HJ 127 (Roem) asks the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to review how court appointed guardians operate, and especially to review whether there should be established case maximums and protections against abuse.  dLCV believes this request may have been motivated by a recent series of articles in the Richmond Times Dispatch, describing questionable conduct by hospital- designated guardians.  The study request was tabled in the House Committee on Rules.

The mission of the disAbility Law Center of Virginia is to advance independence, choice and self-determination; protect legal, human and civil rights; and eliminate abuse, neglect and discrimination of people with disabilities through zealous and uncompromising legal advocacy and representation.