A Pennsylvania lawmaker has introduced a bill that would require background checks on those selected for appointment as guardians for the incapacitated.
The Reading Eagle reports in a recent article, “Bill would require background checks for guardianship,”that Pennsylvania State Representative Mark Gillen is seeking co-sponsors for the bill, after he read about aReading Eagle investigation that found courts in Philadelphia and Montgomery counties appointed Gloria Byars, a convicted felon, to manage the estates of more than 75 incapacitated adults.
Advocates praised the bill, saying it goes a long way to creating state standards. After more than ten years of state working groups, advisory committees and task force reports recommending standards for guardians that include licensing and background checks that have yet to be put in place, these advocates praised the lawmaker for responding to the issue that the newspaper article raised. However, they also had concerns that the bill’s language didn’t specifically address whether agencies that delegate court-appointed responsibilities to staff, must conduct background checks on those employees. The proposed law might not prevent a case like Byars’, who worked for a guardianship agency, from happening again.
Critics say the felony ban would bar relatives with a criminal conviction from being appointed, even if the offense is long in the past. There’s nothing in state statute that currently prohibits a court-appointed guardian from having a criminal record. The new legislation would change that and would disqualify convicted felons from being appointed guardians. It would also require federal and state criminal history checks. In addition, it bans undocumented immigrants from serving.
Lawrence A. Frolik, a University of Pittsburgh School of Law professor and national expert on elder legal issues, called the bill heavy handed.
“The use of felony disqualification disproportionately impacts minority communities,” Frolik said.
Advocates also noted a criminal background check would tag only convictions. In addition, it’s not apparent if the proposed law would have applied to Byars, who despite convictions for financial theft and fraud, was appointed guardian to dozens of incapacitated adults. This is because Byars, at least initially, was an employee of a guardianship agency. This is a possible employee loophole that Gillen hopes the amendment process will address.
Reference: Reading Eagle (April 14, 2018) “Bill would require background checks for guardianship”