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Measure that would give Floridians with disabilities greater autonomy is heading to Gov’s desk

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Measure that would give Floridians with disabilities greater autonomy is heading to Gov’s desk

Mar 04, 2024 | 5:07 pm ET
By Jackie Llanos
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Measure that would give Floridians with disabilities greater autonomy is heading to Gov’s desk
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Michael Lincoln-McCreight (second from the left) has been advocating for Florida's recognition of supportive decison-making for more than four years. Photo taken on Feb. 8, 2024, by Jackie Llanos/Florida Phoenix

The Florida Senate unanimously approved a bill that would carve a legal path for people to make their own decisions as an alternative to being placed into a guardianship.

The bill (HB 73), now heading to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk, codifies supportive decision-making into Florida statutes. This would allow a person with a disability to keep their autonomy to have a final say over what happens in their life while allowing “supporters” to obtain information on the person’s behalf and communicate their wishes.

“I hope that this bill will stop people from being placed in necessarily restrictive guardianships. That’s not to say that there aren’t students that absolutely need a guardian, but not everybody that has a disability in Florida wants or needs that level of support,” said Olivia Babis Keller, a senior public policy analyst at Disability Rights Florida, in a phone interview with Florida Phoenix.

This session, the bill received unanimous support in both chambers of the Legislature, but it has been a four-year-long effort for North Florida Democratic Rep. Allison Tant. She took up the issue because her son has Williams Syndrome, a rare genetic condition with symptoms including developmental delays.

“It’s wonderful. I mean, it’s overdue, but, at the same time, it took this long to get it right,” Tant told the Phoenix.

She continued: “This allows the court to understand and to count supportive decision-making teams as legitimate decision-makers on behalf of someone else. It’s not unlike a power of attorney, but it does not allow the power of attorney to make the decision unilaterally for the individual, and that is a very good thing. Just like a power of attorney now helps people execute life decisions. It’s going to be very similar to that, and I think it’s a really good necessary step to make sure that people can get what they need. ”

Eighteen states and D.C. have enacted laws recognizing supportive decision-making agreements, according to the Center for Public Representation, a national legal advocacy center for people with disabilities.

Another aspect of the bill Keller highlighted is that it would require schools to inform parents of students with liabilities about supportive decision-making before they turn 18. This way, parents could still be involved in the educational decisions of their children without having to place them in a guardianship.