SALT LAKE CITY — Legislation that would remove the requirement that potential wards have legal representation in guardianship proceedings under limited circumstances is before the Utah House of Representatives.
HB101, sponsored by Rep. Fred Cox, R-West Valley City, received a favorable recommendation from the House Judiciary Committee Wednesday on a 6-5 vote.
Cox said the legislation attempts to balance the interests of adoptive and biological parents who have raised children with disabilities and have their best interests in mind as they seek guardianship of them as they reach adulthood with the needs of other potential wards who need legal representation.
Rep. Brian Greene, R-Pleasant Grove, said the legislation presumes a "loving relationship" between a parent and disabled adult child.
The bill provides protections and will help families who are entering a lifelong obligation to continue to care for their child and act in their best interests, he said.
"The court must be satisfied these parents are doing the right thing," Greene said. "There are real people anxiously waiting for us to act."
But critics argued that there are low-cost and free legal resources available to families that need assistance.
The Utah State Bar's Guardianship Signature Program provides to judges a group of attorneys who have volunteered to represent respondents in guardianship and conservatorship proceedings when a person does not have counsel of his or her own choosing at low or no cost.
The state court system also has online resources for families.
Kent Alderman, a Salt Lake attorney who has practiced guardianship law for 30 years, said the issue boils down to protecting the rights of incapacitated adults.
"As soon as they turn 18, their civil rights vest and they deserve to have those rights protected," Alderman said.
Rep. Lowry Snow, R-Santa Clara, asked the committee to hold the bill to allow time to determine whether community legal resources could address the issue without changing the law. The committee declined.