Detert’s guardianship bill advances in the Senate (FL)

TALLAHASSEE Lawmakers have reached an agreement on a bill empowering the state Department of Elder Affairs to oversee private guardians who control the lives and finances of some of Florida’s most vulnerable and elderly citizens.

At the request of Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee today amended and approved Detert’s guardianship bill (SB 1226) to bring it into line with a House bill (HB 1225) sponsored by Rep. Larry Ahern, R-Seminole.

The legislation would expand the DOEA’s current office that oversees public guardians to include private guardians.

Legislative analysts say the DOEA office now oversees 51 public guardians _ as of Dec. 31 _ but would expand to include more than 450 professional guardians under Detert’s bill that creates the new “Office of Public and Professional Guardians.”

The legislation authorizes an additional six employees at the DOEA and $821,670 to provide for the expanded duties that include overseeing private guardians, creating professional standards and investigating complaints. It also calls for the creation of professional guardian registry in each judicial circuit, where judges can select guardians on a rotated basis.

The bills are a result of a December series in the Herald-Tribune _ “The Kindness of Strangers: Inside Elder Guardianship in Florida” _ that detailed cases of people who believe they were denied due process in court and afterward in guardianship cases.

The series highlighted the potential for conflicts of interest among judges, attorneys, guardians, health care providers and other business people who work closely together within the system. The stories also underscored the lack of public oversight since the records for the wards under the guardians’ supervision are confidential.

Detert and Ahern’s bills are now one of three major measures aimed at reforming the guardianship system that are moving through the 2015 Legislature. The House has already approved another guardianship bill (HB 5) sponsored by Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples. And a bill (SB 318) sponsored by Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, will be heard by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Tuesday.

While Detert’s bill focusses on giving the DOEA more authority to oversee private guardians, Passidomo and Diaz de la Portilla’s bills are aimed at revamping the legal system dealing with guardians.

Detert’s bill now heads to the Senate floor. However, Ahern’s bill is in the House Health Care Appropriations subcommittee. It also has a reference to the House Judiciary Committee.

The final passage of the legislation is also clouded by the ongoing House-Senate standoff on a new state budget, which is likely to drive lawmakers into an overtime session. Any bill that has a financial impact, like the guardianship legislation, could get hung up in the final resolution of the budget dispute.


Detert’s guardianship bill advances in the Senate
Lloyd Dunkelberger
April 20, 2015
Sarasota Herald-Tribune