|Rep. Linda Chaney|
The Legislature has agreed to create greater
transparency in the guardianship process, a top recommendation of the
Guardianship Improvement Task Force.
The House voted 117-0 on March 10 to grant final legislative approval to HB 1349 by Rep. Linda Chaney, R-St. Petersburg. Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-Orange Park, sponsored the companion, SB 1710.
Chaney said the measure will create a statewide database that will pave the way for future reforms.
“This amendment establishes a guardianship database
that we first heard last week,” Chaney said. “So thank you for
recognizing this as a first step, and for supporting it, and I hope that
you can help me take it to the next step.”
The measure would require the Florida Clerks of
Court Operations Corporation and the clerks of court to create a
statewide database of guardian and guardianship case information by July
Accessible only by judges, magistrates, court clerks
and certain court personnel, the searchable database would include such
things as the registration status and “substantiated” disciplinary
history of professional guardians.
|Sen. Jennifer Bradley|
The measure would also require the Office of Public
and Professional Guardians, by July 1, 2023, to post searchable profiles
of registered professional guardians on a website.
The profiles would include such things as whether
the professional guardian meets educational and bonding requirements,
the number and type of substantiated complaints filed against the
guardian, and any disciplinary actions imposed by the Department of
Data related to individual wards would be “deidentified” to protect their privacy.
House members from both parties praised the proposal, although some expressed a concern that it doesn’t go far enough.
Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, and an attorney,
asked why the court database won’t be accessible to the parties in a
Chaney said the restriction is needed to protect wards.
“The reason for that is there are times when family
members have good intentions, and family members have bad intentions,”
she said. “So we didn’t want them to have full access to the ward’s
information, and maybe be part of a problem.”
Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, noted that the database was a top priority of the taskforce, but not the only one.
“This is a good first step,” she said. “I’m hopeful
that the 12 other recommendations by the taskforce [are] something that
we can work on next session moving forward.”
Rep. Tracie Davis, D-Jacksonville, said constituents
have contacted her to complain about guardians who shuffle wards from
nursing home to nursing home to hide them from concerned family members.
“You do have families that are good actors, and some
attorneys are bad actors.,” Davis said. “The families that we’re
dealing with in this program are good with this amendment, but it
doesn’t go far enough for them.”
Chaney assured her colleagues that the measure will
also require the Legislature’s Office of Program Policy Analysis and
Government Accountability, (OPPAGA,) to use the database information to
generate annual reports suggesting reforms.
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Winter Park, called
the measure vitally important. Despite anecdotal evidence of ward abuse,
the state knows little about the scope of the problem, he said.
“For too long, issues like this don’t necessarily
get as much attention as so many other issues that we have contemplated
here in this chamber.”
Rep. Colleen Burton, R-Lakeland, credited Pinellas
County Court Clerk Ken Burke, who chaired the taskforce, for helping
shape the legislation.
She said she was encouraged that freshmen lawmakers were interested in the legislation and eager to see more reforms.
“This is a heart-wrenching issue that affects real Floridians,” she said.
The Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers organized the taskforce last summer to begin addressing the problem.
It included legislators, court clerks, court system
employees who work with guardianships, lawyers from the Elder Law and
Real Property, Probate and Trust Law sections, consumer advocates, a
former ward, and others.
The task force was given an open-ended mission to make recommendations for improving the system.
In addition to the database, the taskforce
recommended creating a permanent legislative or state body to suggest
regular updates to the law.
The task force also called for such things as
barring hospitals and nursing homes from recommending a specific
guardian when they file for a guardianship, including consideration of
powers of attorney and advanced directives previously signed by a ward
when a guardianship is set up, and improving training and education for
everyone involved in the guardianship process.
“The final report of the Guardianship Improvement
Task Force is the product of the many perspectives represented by its
members, and I believe we accomplished what we set out to do from the
start: to make recommendations for the Legislature’s consideration that
will begin addressing the major issues with guardianships in our state,”
Burke said at the time.