Lawmakers continue to approve amendments to guardianship laws

Illustration by Simone Williams

Committees in both the Florida Senate and House of Representatives approved bills Wednesday to amend the state’s guardianship statutes in light of last year’s accounts of guardians engaging in financial exploitation.

The Senate Committee on Children, Families and Elder Affairs voted favorably on SB 994. Then, the accompanying HB 706 also received a favorable vote from that chamber’s Justice Appropriations subcommittee. This House bill received a favorable hearing in the Children, Families and Seniors subcommittee in December.

In addition to increasing the scrutiny under which guardians are appointed and requiring court approval for guardians to declare “Do Not Resuscitate” (DNR) for their wards, the bill also seeks to eliminate conflicts of interest in a guardian’s care of their assigned wards. This is achieved by explicitly prohibiting the acceptance of any benefits “directly or indirectly, overtly or covertly, or in cash or in kind.”

Republican Senator Kathleen Passidomo’s decision to introduce SB 994 in November was arguably a direct result of the recent increase in cases of guardians taking financial advantage of their position.

During the Senate meeting, Sen.r Victor Torres (D-Orlando) voiced his disgust with the illicit actions of guardians that has made these amendments necessary. In the same breath, he praised Passidomo and her co-introducers, Senators Linda Stewart and Perry Thurston, on their dedication to protecting some of society’s most vulnerable citizens.

When asked why these amendments were so vital for Florida, Passidomo directly referenced the situation in Orlando where guardian Rebecca Fierle filed numerous DNRs without the consent of the ward or their family. Fierle also routinely listed herself as a Medicaid caseworker to receive compensation from hospitals and other medical facilities.

However, Passidomo was aware of guardian abuse of power well before last year. “Every year,” Passidomo said. “I have had a guardianship bill that I have sponsored that makes changes to Florida’s guardianship laws to protect our vulnerable citizens.”

Republican Senator Aaron Bean also applauded the efforts of Passidomo and her team: “Legislation takes a while [but] you can’t oppose something just because it’s not 100 percent perfect, but you [Passidomo] have taken bold steps to prevent the people that are truly taking advantage of our seniors.”

In response to his sentiments, Passidomo informed the committee that they can expect minor changes to be made to the bill as she continues to receive feedback from courts and guardianship agencies regarding the logistics of implementing the legislation.

SB 994 still needs to be approved by the Judiciary Committee and Rules Committee before it goes to the full Senate and HB 706 will need the approval of the Health and Human Services Committee before it can be heard on the floor. If passed into law, this legislation would take effect in July.