WILLMAR -- Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar's legislation to protect seniors from neglect or abuse by court-appointed guardians passed the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday.
The Guardian Accountability and Senior Protection Act would help states improve their oversight of guardians and conservators of seniors and vulnerable adults. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, cosponsored the bill with Klobuchar, a Democrat.
The legislation was approved with a 15-3 vote and will be referred to the full Senate for approval.
The goal is to protect people from being neglected or financially exploited by their guardians.
The issue will grow in importance as the population of seniors doubles in the coming decades, Klobuchar said during the committee hearing on Thursday.
"I know every state has incidences of people getting ripped off millions of dollars when their loved one is supposed to be under the care of a guardian," she said. "Most guardians do amazing work, good work, but again you have a situation where you have a very few that are causing a lot of harm."
The bill does not provide new funding but allows states to use funding from an existing program to improve their monitoring of guardians, Klobuchar said. It also authorizes an electronic filing system to monitor and audit conservatorships and guardianships.
"We have found a number of problems in the ways these things are monitored," she said. "Many states don't even have criminal background checks."
According to information from Klobuchar's office, a 2010 report by the Government Accountability Office identified hundreds of allegations of physical abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation by guardians in 45 states and the District of Columbia between 1990 and 2010. The report reviewed 20 cases and found that guardians had stolen or improperly obtained $5.4 million from 158 incapacitated victims, many of whom were older adults.
Klobuchar previously chaired a hearing in the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts focusing on the issue of abuse by guardians.
During the hearing, she called for more accountability and oversight of court-appointed guardians to ensure that seniors are safe and receive the services they deserve.
Deb Holtz, Minnesota state ombudsman for long-term care, testified at the hearing about the challenges facing court systems that lack the resources to effectively oversee guardians and conservators.
A number of organizations are backing the legislation, including AARP, the American Bar Association and the National Guardianship Association.