House Committee on Judiciary & Civil Jurisprudence
Public Testimony on House Bill 39
April 7, 2015
My name is Belinda Carlton and I am a Public Policy Specialist with the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities (TCDD). Thank you for the opportunity to testify on House Bill 39 relating to alternatives to guardianship and protections for people being considered for guardianship. TCDD is established by federal law and is governed by 27 board members, appointed by the Governor, 60% of whom are individuals with developmental disabilities or family members of individuals with disabilities. The Council’s purpose in law is to encourage policy change so that people with disabilities have opportunities to be fully included in their communities and exercise control over their own lives.
Today I am also speaking on behalf of the Guardianship Reform and Supported Decision-making Workgroup. The GRSDM includes 15 organizations representing seniors, people with mental illness, physical, intellectual and developmental disabilities. There are also parent, health care and non-profit legal organizations at the table. We came together right after the last legislative session to meet monthly to reach consensus on seven proposals to advance alternatives to guardianship and improve the lives of people under guardianship. I have included a handout about GRSDM and the proposals with my testimony.
Guardianship is, at times, necessary; however, many individuals are presumed to need a guardian simply due to advanced age or the presence of physical, cognitive and/or mental disability. Guardianship is frequently unnecessary for young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who, according to a study by the Office of Court Administration make up the majority (51%) of people under guardianship in Texas. Similarly, seniors who have lived all their lives with their civil rights and individual liberties should retain them for as long as absolutely possible.
A guardian of the person is entitled to full control of the person under guardianship, the right to have physical possession of the person, the right to decide where that person lives, and make every decision for the person. HB 39 is an effort to address the need of courts to ensure we are protecting those who truly cannot protect themselves due to incapacity from such illnesses as Alzheimer’s while encouraging the development or maintenance of maximum self-reliance and independence for those who need some supports with decision-making.
HB 39 would advance alternatives to guardianship and considerations for those being considered for guardianship by:
- listing together in one section the 24 less restrictive alternatives to guardianship;
- directing the court to determine whether alternatives could meet the needs of the person in lieu of guardianship;
- requiring the court to determine if formal and informal supports are in place or available that enable individuals to meet their needs and make decisions so that guardianship may be averted or limited; and,
- adding consideration of the person’s capacity to make decisions about residence, so the court may preserve the right of the person to live in the least restrictive setting appropriate.
In accord with the principle of self-determination, the provisions of HB 39 will be useful in assessing whether or not the person needs a guardian and evaluating the extent to which the individual can participate in the decisions that affect his or her own life.
Thank you, Chair Smithee, for sponsoring HB 39. Thank you chairman and members for your service to Texas.
Belinda Carlton, CPM
Public Policy Specialist
Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities