Monday, June 17, 2024

Guardianship bills debated in state senate committee

Jun. 16—LANSING — During a state senate hearing on legislation to fix state guardianship laws, elected officials recently heard testimony on the civil rights abuses — from cryptocurrency investment schemes to arbitrary judicial decisions — often faced by those caught up in the flawed system.

"We bend over backwards for people that are accused of committing crimes, to make sure their due process rights are protected," Scott Teter, an assistant attorney general and chair of the office's Elder Abuse Task Force, said.

"These people didn't commit a crime — they got old and frail," Teter said.

Teter, division chief of the AG's financial crimes division, recently detailed a package of four bipartisan bills the House passed more than seven months ago, during a Civil Rights, Judiciary, and Public Safety Committee hearing.

The bills, if they become law, would require judges to give a reason, on the record, when they appoint a professional guardian over a family member; limit tasks professional guardians could delegate to office staff and require guardian ad litmus — those acting as the "eyes and ears of the court" — to be more detailed in their reports.

Some elder advocates say the changes don't go far enough. Some professional guardians and probate court judges say they go too far. Few can argue that any substantive reform has been a long time coming.

"Broadly speaking, the bills come from one simple truth, which is there's too many vulnerable adults across the state who have been taken advantage of, exploited and abused," said Rep. Graham Filler, R-Clinton County, sponsor of HB-4911.

"This is a very contentious subject and I do believe these bills are in a good place to move forward," said Rep. Kelly Breen, D-Novi, sponsor of HB 4909.

In 1996, a state Supreme Court Task Force began examining how to improve the way probate court judges vet, appoint and oversee record-keeping for guardians and conservators and then, in 1998, issued several recommendations.

In 2007, then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm appointed social service advocates and others to a similar task force, which issued its recommendations — chief among them was to adopt those recommendations issued by Michigan's Supreme Court's task force nearly a decade prior.

In 2019, AG Dana Nessel renewed the reform effort, appointing members from dozens of organizations and municipal offices to yet another elder abuse task force, and that group, too, has issued its recommendations.

"Here we are, 25 years later, and we still have not adopted all of the recommendations from that task force — one of which is certification," Teter said.

State statutes give court-appointed guardians power over a person's housing, medical and other personal needs while conservators are tasked with making financial decisions.

Michigan is among several states which do not require certification or licensure for either role, even though each task force has recommended it in some form and a 2021 study found certification and licensure both increase knowledge, professionalism and effectiveness of professional guardians.

A fifth house bill, HB 5047, sponsored by Rep. Betsy Coffia D-Traverse City, addresses certification and, if passed, would create an office of state guardian, but this bill was not discussed at the hearing.

Teter promised further discussions on this issue, while adding that the requirement for professional guardians is not supported by everyone.

Calhoun County Chief Judge Michael Jaconette told the committee such an addition could have a "catastrophic impact" on the ability of courts to find suitable guardians to serve the state's most vulnerable people.

Jaconette told the committee he also had issues with a portion of the bill that addressed guardian ad litems, while Sen. Jim Runstead, R-White Lake, suggested a "blind draw" where judges could not hand-pick who was assigned to which case.

Some courts use a blind draw, testimony stated, other counties do not. It is a county-by-county decision and not required by law.

Jaconette said the Probate Court Judges Association, of which he is president, gave reluctant support to the four bills in their initial form, although they had concerns about subsequent changes and had withdrawn that support.

Some professional guardians have said the actions of a few have cast aspersions on a reputable profession and that the cost of certification or licensure could make it difficult, even impossible, to serve more than just a handful of indigent adults.

Committee Chair Sen. Stephanie Chang, D-Detroit, invited written remarks be submitted to the committee and a second hearing is scheduled for next week.

Full Article & Source:
Guardianship bills debated in state senate committee

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The judges in Michigan and too powerful and they will block any legislation that would improve guardianship there.