STATEMENT OF QUALIFIED SUPPORT
PURPOSE OF THE BILL
S.5842/ A.5840 would amend the Surrogate Court Procedure Act (SCPA) with respect to the Article 17-A Guardianship provisions in an effort to peremptorily address pending legal challenges to the constitutionality of the statute, as well as to update certain language and other provisions.
SUMMARY OF THE ISSUE –
We, as parents and family members, comprise the vast majority of Article 17-A Guardians in New York State. Article 17-A guardianships are specifically used for individuals living with an Intellectual or Developmental disability that began prior to age 22, including disabilities attributable to cerebral palsy, neurological impairment, autism, and those diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury.
Art. 17-a Guardianship petitions must be accompanied by two certifications by physicians (or one physician and one psychologist) that the disability exists and is permanent or likely to continue. The process is relatively simple and streamlined in comparison with the Mental Hygiene Law Art. 81 Guardianship, and can be done without an attorney.
Art. 17-A guardians are granted broad authority to make decisions on virtually all aspects of their ward’s life, including personal, medical and financial decisions.
Art. 81 Guardianship is tailored to the specific needs of the individual and grants no more power to the Guardian than is necessary.
Over time a number of court rulings have focused on the lack of specificity and flexibility of Art.17-a Guardianships. More recently a group called Disability Rights New York has challenged the Art. 17-A statute in Federal Court arguing that it can be, at least in some cases, a violation of the disabled’s right to due process regarding the notice of the filing of the petition and the overly broad scope of the Guardianship, among other things. That case is now pending in Federal court. We are concerned that if successful that case could, at worst, invalidate or at best create a confusing situation about all existing 17-A Guardianships.
POSITION OF NYC FAIR
The current Article 17-A Guardianship statute is an extremely effective, relatively simple means of protecting the safety, well-being and best interests of people with Developmental and Intellectual disabilities because there is oversight by their families and loved ones. Tens of thousands of families depend on these Art. 17-A arrangements. It is therefore vitally important that the NYS Legislature act to modify the law so that it will pass constitutional changes in order to avoid the possibility of the law being invalidated which would throw the status of existing Guardianships into question.
NYC FAIR generally supports the purpose and intent of S.5842/A.5840 to address potential constitutional issues and to update the statute. Therefore we urge the legislature to take such action soon, before the end of the current session.
However, it is imperative that any revisions address the following family concerns:
- That existing 17-A Guardianships, their terms and provisions, including those relating to designated stand-by and alternate guardians, be “grandfathered” in and remain in full force and effect;
- That no new additional reporting requirements be imposed on families already heavily burdened with the care and management of their disabled loved ones;
- That any role played by the office of Mental Hygiene Legal Services as counsel to a potential ward be clarified and limited to the gathering and reporting of evidence as to functioning level. This should be determined by the Surrogate, rather than having the office of Mental Hygiene Legal Services making any such determination itself. They have no training or expertise in understanding the disabled therefore they should not sit in judgment on the case.