The Supported Decision-Making Bill
On February 2, 2021, Senator Joe Gruters and Representative Allison Tant filed companion Supported Decision-Making (SDM) bills in the Senate and House.
Many people, including the Florida Public Guardian Coalition and the Public Interest Law Section of the Florida Bar, expressed their support. We had great conversations with legislators and are looking forward to reintroducing the bills in the 2022 Legislative Session.
SDM4FL is currently working with the bills' sponsors and garnering support from voters, stakeholders, and other legislators.
Read the bills and the reasons why we need them!
10 Reasons to Support an SDM Law
Supported Decision-Making (SDM) is an alternative to guardianship that allows an adult with a disability ("decision-maker") to appoint people they trust ("supporters") to support them in making their own decisions.
A Supported Decision-Making Law will clarify Florida's existing guardianship law and facilitate compliance. Florida’s guardianship law requires there be no least restrictive alternative before appointing a guardian. But the law does not provide a meaningful alternative. The proposed law lists alternatives to guardianship and will ensure judges have the information they need to protect people with disabilities.
Judges and court staff do not have the resources to handle the multiple thousands of guardianship cases currently active. Meanwhile, the state’s elderly population continues to grow. In the 2017-2018 fiscal year alone, 7,317 new guardianship cases were filed. SDM keeps people out of the system, allowing courts to focus on cases where guardianship is truly needed and on catching bad actors.
SDM better enables people with disabilities to protect themselves from abuse and neglect. Guardians and guardian advocates have sole control over the person in their care's life with little oversight. SDM allows people with disabilities to diversify their support system and oversee actions taken on their behalf.
SDM allows loved ones to stay involved without the need for extensive paperwork. The new SDM law will allow supporters to obtain information for the decision-maker or communicate the decision-maker's decisions to others without the need for additional legal documents.
In 2013, a Virginia state court became the first in the country to order the use of SDM as an alternative to plenary guardianship. Kentucky and Florida courts followed in 2016 and 2017.
In 2015, Texas became the first state in the country to pass a law codifying SDM and establishing SDM Agreements as legally valid documents that third parties must rely on. Seven states and D.C. followed: Delaware (2016), Wisconsin (2017), District of Columbia (2018), Alaska (2018), Indiana (2019), North Dakota (2019), Nevada (2019), Rhode Island (2019), and Louisiana (2020). Missouri (2018), Maine (2019), and Minnesota (2020) revised their guardianship statutes to recognize SDM as an alternative to guardianship
In 2016, a St. Lucie County judge found that SDM was a least restrictive alternative to guardianship for Michael Lincoln-McCreight and issued an order terminating his guardianship in favor of an SDM Agreement. From 2016-2017, The North Florida Office of the Public Guardian received a grant from the National Resource Center on Supported Decision-Making to use SDM to assist people under their guardianship with achieving greater decision-making independence. In 2020, Tyler Borjas became the second person in Florida to end his guardianship using SDM.
SDM provides people with disabilities with a better quality of life. Research shows that increased self-determination leads to better outcomes in employment and community integration, increases independence, and makes people with disabilities better able to identify situations that could lead to abuse. As people with disabilities, including those who are older adults, face heightened challenges due to COVID-19, the ability to make their own decisions, including housing and medical choices, is more essential than ever.
Though court oversight is essential to protect people under guardianships from being mistreated by their guardians, guardianships can be very intrusive. For example, a Miami mother who is her son’s plenary guardian would need to ask the court for permission to take him to Disney World. SDM gives privacy to families where the person with a disability does not need the court's oversight. It protects these families from undue government intrusion.
SDM lets all families legally support their loved ones regardless of income. On average, the cost of setting up a guardianship can range from $5,000 to $7,500 or more, and fees continue each year for annual reports. Cases to restore the person under guardianship’s rights are just as expensive. SDM will be an affordable option for families who do not need guardianship, as it does not involve the costs associated with going to court. SDM will give all families more options.