Citing Britney Spears Case, Florida Delegation on Capitol Hill Continues to Focus on Guardianship Issues

Members of the Florida delegation on Capitol Hill continues to focus on guardianship issues including pointing to the case of pop star Britney Spears.

Last week, U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Fla., launched his “Guardians Aren’t Above Prosecution (GAAP) Act,” insisting that it “fills a gap in the guardianship prosecutorial system by clarifying that those who are designated as a guardian or conservator are still subject to criminal consequences for abusive or fraudulent behavior.”

The congressman’s office insisted that there are not enough legal protections for Americans with guardians.

“This legislation shines a light on the lack of judicial action commonly taken against bad actors who abuse and defraud vulnerable persons within a guardianship or conservatorship, and spurs prosecution against those bad actors,” Crist’s office noted.

“It’s shameful that some of our most vulnerable Americans in conservatorships or guardianships have so few safeguards to protect them from malicious fraudsters,” said Crist. “It’s simply unacceptable – and why I’ve now introduced my second guardianship reform bill in just the last few months. The Guardians Aren’t Above Prosecution Act fills a critical gap in guardianship reform by making sure the law unequivocally recognizes that conservators or guardians who commit fraud or abuse are just as punishable under the law as any other person. It’s past time we hold these fraudsters fully accountable for their crimes.”

Crist’s bill has the support of attorneys working with Spears in the #FreeBritney effort and the Center for Estate Administration Reform (CEAR).

Crist has been working with U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., on the “Guardianship Accountability Act.”

Soto introduced the bill last month with Crist and  U.S. Reps. Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Penn., as co-sponsors.

The bill “supports the approximately 1.3 million adults, mostly seniors and people with disabilities, who are currently under the care of guardians by enacting protections from the risks of abuse or neglect” and “implements further oversight and enacts data collection measures to hold guardians accountable in response to reports indicating an increasing number of fraud cases and financial exploitation from guardians towards vulnerable populations.”

“Congress must act to protect our most vulnerable community members and ensure that they receive the support they deserve,” said Soto when he introduced the bill. “Our Central Florida community has experienced firsthand how inadequate protections against bad actors can lead to tragedy. In 2019, abuse by a former guardian led to the horrible, preventable death of one of our seniors. We must pass this bipartisan legislation to strengthen safeguards against abuse and address the failings of our nation’s guardianship system.”

“It is said that the strength of a society can be judged based upon how it treats its most vulnerable populations. We’ve seen from recent examples in the news, and alarming rates of elder abuse throughout Pasco and Pinellas Counties, that guardianship is an area where we can and must do better to protect seniors,” said Bilirakis. “Our bill will provide additional resources, strengthen protections, and improve intergovernmental coordination to achieve this paramount objective.”

“Toxic guardianships, like that of entrapped Britney Spears, are sadly prevalent across Florida and the country. Lack of data and accountability is one of the biggest hindrances in our fight to protect those in the guardianship system. As the son to two senior parents, I can’t fathom either of them being caught in these horrific circumstances,” said Crist. “That’s why I’m proud to co-introduce this legislation with Rep. Soto that directs the Elder Justice Coordinating Council to collect and publish data on guardianships and conservatorships. It also directs the Department of Health and Human Services to provide grants to states for guardianship oversight programs and establishes a federal guardianship resource center — all towards the goal of eliminating guardianship fraud abuse.”

The bill “would help ensure individuals under the care of guardians are not at risk of abuse or neglect by expanding the availability of federal demonstration grants to be used for developing state guardianship databases to assist with the collection of information on guardians, training of court visitors, and sharing of background check and other information with appropriate entities.” Soto’s proposal would also create a National Resource Center on Guardianship to compile information for guardians and those under guardianship, including creating databases and training materials.

The bill was sent to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. Over in the U.S. Senate, U.S. Sens. Bob Casey, D-Penn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, are championing the legislation.

Another member of the Florida delegation has also been trying to shine a light the matter.

U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., has been pushing for a key congressional committee “to review and examine the plight of Americans trapped unjustly in conservatorships” and he is citing the Spears case to bolster his position.

Back in March, Gaetz and U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who leads Republicans on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, wrote U.S. Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-NY, the chairman of the committee, asking for a hearing on the matter.

They cited a recent documentary the New York Times did on Spears who was under a conservatorship run by her father. On Friday, a judge ended that conservatorship after more than a dozen years.

KEVIN DERBY
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