New law offers alternative to guardianship for seniors and those with developmental disabilities

Published: Sep. 27, 2018 at 6:44 PM AKDT
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In a bill signing Thursday, Gov. Bill Walker created another way for a person to be helped by others besides restrictive, traditional guardianship.

In signing House Bill 336, Rep. Charisse Millett’s popular final bill, Walker created new law allowing so-called “Supported Decision-Making Agreements.”

The bill signing occurred at the Fourth Annual Disability & Aging Summit at the Special Olympics building on Mountain View Drive for a reason: Decision-Making Agreements are primarily for Alaska’s rapidly growing senior population and for people with intellectual or developmental disabilities.

In an interview, Millett, an Anchorage Republican who lost her seat to a primary challenger in the August primary, said her bill was essentially nonpartisan and was a fitting way for her to leave the Legislature. The legislative votes and long co-sponsorship list demonstrate the measure’s popularity — it passed the House 39-1 on April 14 and the Senate 19-0 on May 11.

Rep. David Eastman of Wasilla was the sole no vote. He said the bill offered too big a grant of immunity for decisions made on behalf of another. In a telephone interview, he said he was unable to amend the bill to his liking.

The bill emerged from the previous year’s disability and aging summit, according to participants. Millett had warned it might take two years for the Legislature to move such a measure, but she praised her staff and others for shrinking the time to three months and getting the bill passed last session.

The new law allows a disabled person or senior citizen to name a “supporter” or team of supporters — perhaps children, parents or friends — who would sign an agreement with the disabled person or senior naming the help that was needed.

“It could be part of anyone’s natural support network,” said Anne Applegate, an attorney on the staff of the Governor’s Council on Disabilities & Special Education.

The bill itself has several sample agreements among its 19 pages of text.

A team could agree to do something like help a senior with computers, Wi-Fi or a smartphone, Applegate said, or an agreement could focus on health care or legal advice.

In capital letters, one of the law’s sample agreements says: “A supporter appointed under this agreement does not make decisions for me.”

“It’s innovative legislation that will end up saving the state money and will allow the freedom that seniors — and folks with intellectual and development disabilities — to gauge how much support they need,” Millett said in an interview.