Official guardianship program advanced

A new state office would offer legal guardianship for elderly and disabled Nebraskans who lack other options under a bill advanced from general file Feb 21.

LB920, introduced by Lincoln Sen. Colby Coash, would adopt the Public Guardianship Act, which would establish an office to serve as guardian or conservator in situations in which no family member or suitable individual is available. The office also would provide education, training and support to current and future guardians and conservators.

The bill would create the Office of Public Guardian under the jurisdiction of the Nebraska State Court Administrator and would establish a director, deputy public guardian and up to 12 associate guardians.

A Judicial Committee amendment, adopted 33-0, would create the Public Guardianship Cash Fund. The amendment also removed proposed immunity provisions for staff members and added knowledge of intellectual disabilities as a requirement of the new public guardian.

Coash said Nebraska is the only state in the country without a guardianship office because the volunteer system has worked well.

“Nebraskans take care of our own,” he said. “But as the last state, what we’re going to find is a growing need [for volunteers] and a diminished capacity.”

The lack of available guardians has forced the courts to sometimes select unqualified conservators, he said.

“This gap has led to some pretty horrendous things that have happened to people across our state in every district,” Coash said, citing a state audit report that revealed that a single person had been made a legal guardian for more than 600 people.

Omaha Sen. Bob Krist supported the bill, saying LB920 is especially important for parents of children with special needs.

“There’s always a concern,” Krist said, “Who will be there to take care of them? Who will be there to speak for them?”

The bill was advanced to select file on a 34-0 vote.

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