Staff increase, caseload limits proposed for public guardians

Additional staff would help manage public guardian cases under a bill advanced by the Legislature March 7.

LB934, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash, would remove a requirement that the public guardian hire up to 12 associate guardians. Instead, the director of the Office of Public Guardian would be changed with hiring a multidisciplinary team of up to 20 professionals and support staff, including at least one attorney licensed to practice law in Nebraska.

A 2015 report by the Office of Public Guardian estimated that each current employee would have to work 123 hours each week to maintain its current workload, Coash said.

“The last thing we want is for anyone to not receive the attention they need,” he said. “We need to make these changes to make sure our most vulnerable citizens are protected and have the services they need.”

The bill also would limit the number of cases the public guardian could accept to a ratio of 20 public wards or protected persons to each member of the multidisciplinary team.

Bancroft Sen. Lydia Brasch supported the bill. She said protecting seniors and vulnerable adults will become even more of a pressing issue in the future.

“The state of Nebraska expects the population of aging adults to nearly double,” she said. “[LB934] will help provide staff training, oversight and protections [for those aging adults].”

A Judiciary Committee amendment, adopted 35-0, removed from the bill a restriction limiting the office to a total of 480 cases and incorporated provisions of LB1008, a bill also introduced by Coash.

These provisions would require that a guardian ad litem be a licensed attorney in good standing, complete relevant training and advocate for the best interests of the individual whom they defend, including their social, economic and personal safety interests.

Each guardian ad litem would be required to make contact with the person he or she represents within two weeks of appointment and become familiar with that person’s condition to the best of his or her ability.

The guardian ad litem would be authorized to conduct discovery, present and cross-examine witnesses, file motions on behalf of the person they represent and request medical, psychological or other relevant examinations of the person to whom they are appointed.

He or she also would be authorized to make recommendations to the court regarding a temporary or permanent guardianship, conservatorship or other protective order.

Coash introduced an amendment that would incorporate provisions of his LB1007, which would extend the statute of limitations to six years on cases of abuse, neglect or exploitation of a vulnerable or senior adult from its current three-year limit.

The amendment also would clarify the definition of exploitation under the Adult Protective Services Act to include the wrongful withholding or control of a vulnerable or senior adult’s financial assets through intimidation, threat of force or a breach of fiduciary duty by a guardian or conservator.

Following the adoption of the Coash amendment on a 33-0 vote, senators advanced the bill to select file 36-0.

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