At the Capitol, #FreeBritney is just the beginning

In 2018, a bipartisan pair of senators tabled a law that would provide support to those placed under guardianship, a legal mechanism put in place for people the court considers incapable of managing their affairs. The bill never got a vote.

But on Tuesday, Senator Bob Casey, D-Pa., And Senator Susan Collins, R-Maine, reintroduced the Guardianship Accountability Act with optimism that this time the bill will have the political and public support to move forward.

What changed? Simply put: Britney Spears.

The pop icon has waged a high-profile legal battle to end his guardianship, a form of guardianship, which had controlled his personal life and finances since 2008. His efforts were punctuated by various deep media dives into his allegations of abuse, the latest of which debuts on Netflix Tuesday.

“What started out as a well-known figure in American pop culture helps shine the spotlight on some people whose circumstances might not be considered if we didn’t have that focus,” Casey told NPR in a prior interview. the reintroduction of the bill.

“At the moment, the best guess is that we currently have around 1.3 million people living in guardianship,” Casey said. “And so you have a tremendous number of Americans who have some degree of control over their lives.”

The Guardianship Accountability Act was first introduced when Collins chaired the committee on aging and Casey was the most senior member of the panel. The couple continue to work together to advance this legislation, which acts on the findings of the Senate Guardianship Inquiry in 2018.

The investigation found that once a guardianship is imposed, there are “few safeguards in place to protect against those who choose to abuse the system.” The investigative report called for greater oversight of guardians to protect them from abuse and exploitation.

Casey says it starts with the data.

“At the federal and state levels, there just aren’t the resources to collect this data,” he says.

Without this data, he says, it’s impossible to break the disparities in which groups of Americans are abused or exploited.

“If we don’t start doing a better job of having national datasets, we won’t know – are our rates higher for, say, African Americans or low income people or a group of people? ‘Americans versus each other, “he described.

The Guardianship Accountability Act would create a national resource center that would publish best practices for states to follow, share training materials for guardians, and maintain a database of state laws and less restrictive alternatives to guardianship themselves. . It would also increase the availability of federal grants to help train court officials and expand the use of background checks for guardians.

Casey says he’s realistic about the procedural challenges.

“Everything is tough in the Senate, but it’s extremely helpful to have a Republican cosponsor early on,” he said. “You are already more than a few yards from the pitch at this point.”

In a statement to NPR, Collins said the measure would protect Americans who “have been ruthlessly exploited by guards who took advantage of the trusteeship system.”

“Prevention of guardianship abuse requires law enforcement and social service agencies at all levels of government to work together, and the Guardianship Accountability Act encourages this kind of collaboration,” she said. . “I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan legislation to help hold criminals accountable and protect the elderly and others in guardianship care.”

Their work could be bolstered by the fact that there is already broad bipartisan support for the issue on Capitol Hill.

In the House, there is already a bill proposed by Rep. Nancy Mace, SRC and Charlie Crist, D-Fla., Which also supports the maintenance of guardianship databases. Another bill introduced by Rep. Jason Smith, R-Mo., Would limit the Conservatives ‘authority over birth control to their charges – following Spears’ claim that his Conservatives prevented her from withdrawing her intrauterine device to have more children.

Casey says it’s a positive sign that there is “not only bipartisan support, but public momentum for change.”

Until the bill reformed parts of the system, Casey said they could easily lead to abuse, he advises those in guardianship or with family in guardianship to remain “aggressively vigilant.” .

“They should arm themselves with information,” he said, “ask questions, demand answers.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To learn more, visit

About Selena J. Killeen

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