For this weekly feature, the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD) will highlight a noteworthy bill that is currently going through the legislative process. The bill may relate directly to TCDD’s Public Policy Priorities or another disability-related issue.
Bill: Senate Bill (SB) 31, relating to establishing a guardianship abuse, fraud, and exploitation deterrence program.
Bill Author: Sen. Judith Zaffirini, Texas Senate District 21 (Laredo)
- Sen. Brian Birdwell, Texas Senate District 22 (Granbury)
- Sen. Brandon Creighton, Texas Senate District 4 (Conroe)
- Sen. Joan Huffman, Texas Senate District 17 (Houston)
- Sen. Bryan Hughes, Texas Senate District 1 (Mineola)
- Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr.; Texas Senate District 27 (Brownsville)
- Sen. Jane Nelson, Texas Senate District 12 (Flower Mound)
- Sen. Charles Perry, Texas Senate District 28 (Lubbock)
- Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, Texas Senate District 20 (McAllen)
- Sen. Lois Kolkhorst, Texas Senate District 18 (Brenham)
Where is the bill in the process?
On March 11, SB 31 received a public hearing before the Senate Committee on State Affairs and was left pending. When a bill is left pending, this means that the committee did not vote on the bill and it could be considered again at a future committee meeting. The video of the hearing can be found here. (Discussion on SB 31 begins at the 38:18 mark.)
What does the bill do?
SB 31 would establish a Guardianship Abuse, Fraud, and Exploitation Deterrence Program, to be set-up and maintained by the Office of Court Administration (OCA) of the Texas Judicial System. The program would provide additional resources and assistance to courts that have jurisdiction over guardianship proceedings by engaging guardianship compliance specialists to:
- Review guardianship cases
- Work with courts to develop best practices in managing guardianship cases
- Report any concerns of abuse, fraud, and exploitation, including financial exploitation
The bill authorizes OCA to notify the State Commission on Judicial Conduct if the Office has reason to believe a judge’s actions or failure to act with respect to a report from a guardianship compliance specialist would indicate the possibility of judicial misconduct. It also calls for an annual report to the legislature on the performance of the program.
Statement from the bill author, Sen. Judith Zaffirini
“More than 51,000 guardianship cases involving $5 billion in assets are recorded in Texas, and those numbers will increase as our population ages. Sound monitoring and reform practices by courts are needed to reduce, if not eliminate, the high risk of abuse, fraud, neglect and exploitation of persons with a guardian and their savings. Senate Bill 31 would provide critical state assistance, including auditors, to courts that lack adequate resources to ensure guardians’ compliance with the law.”
Who supports the bill and why?
The following comments were provided during the bill’s public hearing on March 11:
- AARP: Mir Alikhan, Advocacy Volunteer for AARP, testified that “most Texas courts lack the personnel and resources to sufficiently provide oversight and protection of vulnerable older Texans,” and that SB 31 “provides the resources courts need to better oversee guardianships” in the state.
- CTD: Dennis Borel, Executive Director of the Coalition of Texans with Disabilities (CTD), stated that, “for those who need assistance, guardianship is a way to level the playing field in dealing with the business of life. I believe Senate Bill 31 ensures that that will happen.”
Additional testimony from March 11 hearing:
- Judicial Perspective: Nathan Hecht, Chief Justice of the Texas Supreme Court and current Chair of the Texas Judicial Council, remarked that he prioritizes this issue because there are lives at stake. He noted that judges lack a practical way of keeping track of statutorily-mandated reports on guardianship cases, and that there have been instances where wards have gotten lost in the process and had their estates taken by guardians. He commented that judges desperately need – and want – the resources that will be provided by SB 31.
- OCA: David Slayton, Administrative Director of OCA, testified that there are over 51,000 guardianship cases throughout Texas, with over 3,500 new ones being created each year. He stated that county judges do not have the resources to ensure that people are not being taken advantage of, and that SB 31 would help provide necessary assistance.
Who opposes the bill and why?
No opposition to the bill has been identified as this time.
SB 31 is very similar to SB 667, which passed with broad support in both legislative chambers in 2017, but was ultimately vetoed by the Governor. Sen. Zaffirini indicates that her office has been working closely with the Governor’s staff and she believes that any concerns about the proposal have been remedied.
How much will the bill cost?
According to the Legislative Budget Board, SB 31 will require an appropriation of $5,941,638 for the biennium ending August 31, 2021. After that, it will have an annual cost of approximately $2.8 million.
Is there a House companion to the bill?
An identical bill, HB 1286 by Rep. John Smithee, received a public hearing before the House Committee on Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence on March 11. The bill was left pending.
- SB 1426 by Sen. Zaffirini, relating to the establishment by a county of public guardians for certain incapacitated persons, funding for guardianships by public guardians and related services, and compensation deductions in certain guardianships.
- SB 1768 by Sen. Zaffirini, relating to guardianships and supports and services for incapacitated persons.
- SB 1783 by Sen. Zaffirini, relating to guardianships, alternatives to guardianship, and supports and services for incapacitated persons.
For the latest information about where SB 31 is in the process, follow the bill on the Texas Legislature Online. To receive future legislative updates from TCDD, subscribe to TCDD eNews or follow us on Twitter.