Who gets guardianship of an elderly person unable to care for themselves is a thorny issue that often ends up in the courts. In an attempt to streamline that process, the Legislature’s Rules and Judiciary Committee on Thursday discussed a bill designed to decide which state or territory will have legal jurisdiction over the matter.
“In most cases, the protected person’s home state has jurisdiction,” St. Thomas attorney Tom Bolt said.
He said usually the person needing guardianship must live in the state or territory for six consecutive months. However, he later said that where the person’s assets are located also comes into play.
Those assets are one of the main reasons the bill is needed. Several senators and testifiers spoke about “granny snatching,” in which a sibling removes an elderly parent from the home to another location.
“It becomes more common when the protected person has considerable assets,” Bolt said, telling those at the meeting that they know personally prominent people in the community who have had this happen to them.
Bolt said he recently had to fly to the mainland to help in the case of an elderly person who was housed in what amounted to a box.
Human Services Commissioner Christopher Finch said elderly people who hail from the Virgin Islands often have children living in multiple states. He said the children might disagree on where the parent will live and also on the care.
Sen. Janette Millin Young pointed out that the issue is one that many people will face as the population ages and many are afflicted with diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
“When you have to spend time in court, it’s time and money,” she said, adding that with the bill, the money that would be spent on legal fees, can remain with the family.
Bolt urged people who are reaching an older age to write advance directives so their family can adhere to their wishes and their children won’t have to go to court to decide on guardianship.
The bill would bring the territory in line with 38 other states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico. Another four states are working on similar bills. This bill is part of a series addressing elderly issues, and implementation of all of them is expected to happen simultaneously.
After discussion, the senators unanimously agreed to hold the legislation, which is called the V.I. Uniform Adult Guardianship and Protective Proceedings Jurisdiction Act, in the Rules Committee for some streamlining.
The senators also unanimously approved the Virgin Islands False Claim Act and moved it on the full Senate for its consideration. The bill makes it a crime to defraud the local government and rewards the whistleblower with a portion of the money the government collects from the wrong doer.
“This piece of legislation gives us the backbone to deal with such cases,” Sen. Myron Jackson said.
The senators also unanimously approved and sent to the full Legislature a bill bringing the law that oversees the practices of physical therapists up to modern standards. It had last been addressed in 1969. The bill allows physical therapists to treat patients for up to 45 days or 12 visits without a doctor’s referral.
Some of the discussion on the bill centered on the fact that traditional healers called rub men and setters were not included under its provisions.
“There is a role for traditional healers,” Jackson said.
A bill calling for the Motor Vehicle Bureau to develop a program to check vehicles for emissions also got a unanimous nod from the senators, who sent it on to the full Legislature for its consideration. An amendment includes the Planning and Natural Resources Department into the picture.
“There is no fee to the consumer,” said Sen. Sammuel Sanes, the committee chairman.
Jackson spoke about the damage to historical buildings. Other senators said emissions damage the environment.
“We live in one of the most pristine places on the planet,” Sen. Shawn-Michael Malone said.
In addition to Sanes, Jackson, Malone and Millin Young, Sens. Diane Capehart, Kenneth Gittens and Donald Cole attended the meeting. Noncommittee members Sens. Clifford Graham, Nereida “Nellie” Rivera-O’Reilly and Tregenza Roach also attended.