Legislation Aims to End Arbitrary Isolation by Guardians of People with Disabilities and Seniors

woman, sits looking sad, someone's hands on her shoulders

by Andy Jones
February 7, 2017

A new bill, introduced in the Washington State House of Representatives on January 19, would create the first statewide limits on the ability of guardians to restrict whom their clients can associate with.
 
Washington State currently lacks clear due process protections for people under guardianship who believe their ability to communicate and interact with their family and friends are being unnecessarily limited by their guardians.
 
Under House Bill 1402, guardians would be required to demonstrate “good cause” before imposing such barriers. Specifically, guardians would have to either obtain specific authorization from a court or show that they are acting pursuant to a protective order.
 
Where there is an “immediate need” to protect a person from “abuse, neglect, abandonment, or financial exploitation,” the guardian would be authorized to take temporary emergency measures. However, they would be required to file a petition for a Vulnerable Adult Protection Order within 14 days to a court. These protection orders already exist to protect from other types of abuse.
 
“Sometimes people think of the guardian as the person who gets all the person’s rights, and actually the guardian’s job is to defend rights and to make sure they understand what that person wants and what their preferences are…,” David Lord, public policy director at Disability Rights Washington, told the House Judiciary Committee on January 26. “This bill makes sure that guardians, when they think there is a good reason to believe that a person is in danger, they've got the authority to act, but then they need to be able to show to a judge that that is what needs to happen.
 
“This is a severe enough of a situation, where you interfering enough with a person’s right to associate, that I think that is appropriate.”
 
In addition, the bill would expand on guardians’ annual reporting requirements, to specify that they attach applicable reports from mental health professionals. New notice requirements would be mandated to inform of people under guardianships, and other individuals entitled to notice, when special proceedings are scheduled pertaining to the person’s residence changes, admission to medical facilities, or death.
 
The Offices of Public Guardianship and State Long-Term Care Ombuds would also be required to partner on new training requirements for different types of decision making authority for guardians, power of attorneys, surrogate health decision makers and other people tasked with making decisions on behalf of the elderly and people with disabilities.
 
In past years, there have been several attempts to address the issue of isolation by guardians. Family members of people under guardianship have testified that they were denied the opportunity to visit with aged parents by controlling guardians. During the interim between legislative sessions, Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-Tacoma), the bill’s primary sponsor, worked with stakeholders to develop consensus language.  
 
No companion bill has yet been introduced in the state Senate, but the bill has a long list of co-sponsors from both parties. The bill was passed out of the Judiciary committee unanimously on February 2.

The full text of the bill, a bill report and videos of the House Judiciary Committee’s hearings, are available on the Washington State Legislature website.