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Legislation aims to prevent incapacitated people from being cut off from loved ones

Elderly woman
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A bill (S.B. 110) is working its way through the legislature that would help incapacitated adults whose caretakers are cutting them off from family and friends.

The bill would allow a court to appoint a guardian for the limited purpose of supervising the incapacitated individual's access to people they want to see or talk to.

The court would first need to determine that the incapacitated person wants contact with the person who has been barred - and that the contact is in the best interest of the incapacitated person.

According to the bill's sponsor, Sen. Peter Lucido (R-Shelby Twp.), the goal is to provide a legal avenue for allowing visitation and other communication when a caretaker says no.

"That's what courts are supposed to do: access to justice," said Lucido. "It is unjust to allow one party to seclude others from seeing their loved one."

"Especially in their golden years, why would you want to bar somebody from having that time with their loved one? That's what this is about," Lucido said. "Family members may not get along, but the person who had these children - or an uncle or aunt that misses their nephew or niece - should have the benefit of seeing that loved one."

Some say the bill does not go far enough to protect vulnerable adults from being isolated.

Sean Bennett, a disability rights advocate, submitted testimony to the House Judiciary Committee for its November 5th hearing, stating, "A better approach, and that required by Constitutional law, is to stipulate that a guardian may not restrict visitation or communication rights unless necessary to protect the person from harm or some other very good reason."

Alison Hirschel, managing attorney with the Michigan Elder Justice Initiative, in her testimony commended Lucido's efforts to address the "common scenario" of incapacitated adults being isolated from people important to their lives.

"Many of these situations arise as the result of long-standing family tensions and sometimes create heartbreaking situations in which concerned family members and vulnerable adults have no access to each other," wrote Hirschel.

But she urged some amendments to the bill such as clarifying that it applies to institutional settings as well as home settings and including language that "the limited guardian must promote access consistent with the incapacitated person's wishes and welfare."

Lucido said the bill has passed in the state Senate, was voted out of the House Judiciary Committee this week, and is headed for a vote in the House.

Virginia Gordan has been a part-time reporter at Michigan Radio since fall 2013. She has a general beat covering news topics from across the state.
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