Senate Health and Human Services Committee
Public Testimony on SB 1881
April 8, 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 Senate Bill 1881 relating to supported decision-making agreements for people with disabilities. 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.
The Council supports increasing opportunities for, and protecting of the civil rights and well-being of, people with developmental disabilities. The vast majority of people with disabilities, including those with intellectual and developmental disabilities are able to make important decisions without the need for a guardian. With the provision of supports and services, most persons with disabilities are capable of making important decisions such as where they want to live without the need for a full or limited guardian.
The Texas Estates Code directs courts to encourage the development and maintenance of maximum self-reliance and independence but routinely courts seem to default people directly into full guardianship. Guardianship puts life decisions into the hands of another person and strips individuals of their civil rights. A guardian of the person is entitled to full control of the person, the right to have physical possession of the person, the right to decide where they live, and make every decision for the person. 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.
Supported decision-making, as presented in SB 1881, would codify a new alternative to guardianship in the Texas Estates Code. There are alternatives to guardianship in statute that are necessary for certain people at certain times in their lives, such as a representative payee or power of attorney, that allow someone to decide certain things for the individual. We do not have an alternative in statute to support people to make their own decisions.
Supported decision-making is an alternative that does not require going to court or involvement of an attorney, and does not remove a person’s civil rights and expectations. It is an informal and voluntary alternative to guardianship where individuals choose people they trust to help them understand the decisions they need to make and to communicate their decisions to others.
The supported decision making agreement included in SB 1881 was developed in collaboration with judges and other stakeholders. It is an alternative to guardianship that has been endorsed by the Texas Judicial Council and Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht. A copy of that endorsement is attached to my testimony for your information.
Supreme Court Justice Hecht has made alternatives to guardianship a priority and the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities expects to partner with stakeholders and subject matter experts in the development and provision of training to promote the informed use of alternatives to guardianship, including supported decision making.
Supported decision-making holds great promise as a way to ensure that people with disabilities have the right to choose their own paths in life and exercise their civil rights with support from people they trust.
Thank you Senator Zaffirini for sponsoring SB 1881. Thank you, Chair and members of the committee for your service to Texas.
Belinda Carlton, CPM
Public Policy Specialist