ST. PETERSBURG, FL — As rallying cries and social media posts calling for a judge to free Britney Spears from conservatorship grow louder, two members of Congress announced Tuesday they’re taking action against guardianship and conservatorship abuse.
Federal lawmakers are introducing a new bill called the FREE Act to protect Americans whose rights have been stripped away under guardianship. The court-appointed guardian (called a conservator in some states) can control every aspect of a person's life including their finances, where they live, and who they associate with or even communicate with. They also lose the right to vote.
The ABC Action News I-Team has been exposing issues with guardianship abuse in Florida for the past eight years.
The proposed law would, for the first time, provide federal protection for people under guardianship.
“It’s a right versus wrong issue”
In a virtual press conference, Democratic representative Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg and Republican Congresswoman Nancy Mace of South Carolina introduced the Freedom and Right to Emancipate from Exploitation (FREE) Act.
“This is not a right versus left issue. It’s a right versus wrong issue,” said Crist.
The proposed law would allow people in guardianships and conservatorships to petition a court to replace private or professional guardians with public guardians.
Public guardians are paid by taxpayers and would have no financial incentive to exploit people under their care.
“If it can happen to Britney, it can happen to anyone”
Crist introduced another guardianship reform bill in late 2019, after seeing ABC Action News reports on guardians accused of isolating, abusing and financially exploiting seniors here in Florida.
“After your great reporting, and thank you for that, the incidents of how often this is happening in Florida is very troubling,” Crist said at the time.
But that legislation was stuck in committee, as Congress turned its attention to COVID and the economic downturn.
New attention on the Britney Spears case is now opening the nation’s eyes.
“Her situation is a nightmare. If it can happen to Britney Spears, it can happen to anyone in this country,” Rep. Mace said.
“I think the timing is a big factor,” Crist said. “It has brought so much more light to what millions of people experience across the United States every day with a conservatorship or guardianship.”
Court monitors and more transparency
The new law would also appoint independent monitors in guardianship and conservatorship cases and would require states to file annual reports with the courts.
Crist is asking for $260 million to fund the reforms.
Congressman Crist believes the bill has strong bipartisan support and could be voted into law within the coming months.
If you have a story you’d like the I-Team to investigate, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org