|Senator Nancy Detert|
And Wednesday, with nearly unanimous approval in the Legislature, came reforms that supporters say will make Florida a national model for regulation of guardians who care for the state’s frail elders.
The legislation (SB 232), sponsored by Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, and Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole, will allow the state Department of Elder Affairs to expand its public guardianship office to include private, or professional, guardians, who are paid to manage the affairs of seniors deemed by the courts as too frail or mentally challenged to care for themselves.
Two weeks after the Senate unanimously passed the legislation, the House approved the measure 115-2 and sent it to Gov. Rick Scott.
The bill, which Scott is expected to sign, will allow the newly renamed Office of Public and Professional Guardians to establish standards for public and private guardians, register guardians, investigate complaints, develop procedures for discipline and set penalties for guardians found in violation.
Detert, who is leaving the Senate to run for the Sarasota County Commission, considered the bill her top priority for her last session in the Legislature. And, in an unusual move, the 39 other senators became co-sponsors of the legislation.
“I think that the bill is very important and I think everyone should talk about it in their own community,” Detert said about the Senate support.
Detert said with Florida’s and the nation’s growing elderly population, the issue of guardianship and the potential abuses is a national problem.
“There are so many horrible, blatant cases,” Detert said. “Every state was blindsided.”
But Detert said with the enactment of the new bill Florida will have “the strongest law in the nation.”
“It will be the model for the other states,” she said.
Detert said she was prompted to file the legislation after hearing complaints from families in her community, including Julie Ferguson, whose legal efforts on behalf of her mother, Marise London, were the subject of a story in the Herald-Tribune’s series, “The Kindness of Strangers,” which highlighted problems with the guardianship system.
In her 80s, London — for years the owner of a well-known art gallery and frame shop in Gulf Gate — wanted to stay in her beloved house. In January 2013, the 12th Judicial Circuit Court named the nonprofit agency Lutheran Services Florida as London’s guardian, at the request of the Department of Children and Families’ Adult Protective Services division. The agency was paid from London’s assets to make decisions about her finances and health, at the rate of $85 an hour — while Ferguson maintained she could provide better care for free, and had a right to do so under a Power of Attorney document her mother signed before suffering from cognitive impairment. Ferguson has spent years and thousands of dollars trying to gain guardianship of her mother.
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Guardianship Bill Heads to Scott's Desk