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HomeNewsLocal governmentSenate Bill Aims to Clean Up Guardianship Issues

Senate Bill Aims to Clean Up Guardianship Issues

Carla Benjamin, assistant commissioner for the Human Services Department, said her department supported the guardianship bill. (VI Senate photo)

The Britney Spears custody case came up a couple of times as the Committee on Rules and Judiciary on Friday considered a bill to replace the Uniform Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Act and enact the Uniform Guardianship, Conservatorship, and Other Protective Arrangements Act.

The proposed bill would, in the words of Sen. Diane Capehart, “offer protection for the vulnerable population in our community.”

The population she is referring to includes children and older people.

In the case of 90s pop star Britney Spears, it involved an adult taking advantage of a young person’s situation. Sen. Franklin Johnson said the problem in the Virgin Islands is “reverse Britney Spears.” He said most of the issues involve younger people taking advantage of elderly people over whom they hold guardianship.

Attorney Tom Bolt said his office every week fields a call from someone with guardianship issues.

Troy de Chabert-Schuster, director of AARP in the Virgin Islands, said his group has spearheaded guardianship system reform for the last seven years. He defined guardianship and how it can lead to problems.

“Guardianships and conservatorships are legal arrangements that allow one person, the guardian or conservator, to make decisions on behalf of another individual who is unable to make those decisions for themselves. These arrangements are put in place to protect and ensure the well-being of individuals who may be incapable of managing their own affairs due to age, physical or mental disability, or illness,” he said.

“Guardianship involves decisions related to personal matters such as healthcare, living arrangements, and education, while conservatorship focuses on the management of financial matters and assets. Through guardianship and conservatorship, individuals who are vulnerable and in need of support can receive the guidance and protection necessary to live a secure and fulfilling life. However, because the authority of the guardian or conservator is so powerful, these arrangements can easily be exploited,” de Chabert-Schuster said.

Carla Benjamin, assistant commissioner for the Human Services Department, testified that her department supported the bill with a few changes. The changes included how a parent is defined and whether a guardian could give minors permission to marry.

Jessica McKenney, chair of the local bar’s Legislation and Law Reform Committee, commented on how she thought the bill could be tweaked.

Sen. Novelle E. Francis, the bill sponsor, urged the committee to forward it to the full Senate, although work needed to be done. “Justice delayed is justice denied,” he said.

The bill received a favorable recommendation and was forwarded to the full Senate for consideration.

Britney Spears’s father lost control of his daughter’s financial affairs after court appearances in 2021.

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