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Seniors who must rely on others to execute their affairs "really deserve to have dignity and respect and protection from the state, and it's our job to make sure that the tools are there to allow that to happen," said Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, the chair of the Judiciary Finance and Policy committee who is sponsoring the bill in the House.
The head of the Senate Judiciary Committee, DFLer Ron Latz of St. Louis Park, is bringing companion legislation in the Senate.
The bill would require background checks every two years, instead of every five as current law prescribes, and would expand the checks to include professional license status, civil judgments and other information that could bear on a person's fitness to be a guardian or conservator.
Hilstrom said she doesn't anticipate the changes will require additional funding from the state.
She spoke at a news conference Wednesday morning at the West 7th Community Center in St. Paul along with Attorney General Lori Swanson, Anoka County Attorney Tony Palumbo and U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is seeking similar legislation at the federal level.
There are about 25,000 Minnesotans under the care of court-appointed guardians or conservators, Swanson said. "That's going to grow as the population ages," she said. "The time is right to solve this problem."
Swanson said she didn't have hard data on the extent of abuse of vulnerable adults in Minnesota, in part because these situations are often not reported. She did cite the recent prosecution of a woman who had been suspended from the practice of law but was subsequently appointed to serve as guardian for dozens of adults and wound up stealing tens of thousands of dollars.
David Vikla's second cousin was one of the victims. She wound up losing an estimated $40,000.
"This legislation should be really helpful in getting good people to do the guardianship," said Vikla, of Lonsdale, who spoke about his cousin's experience at Wednesday's news conference.
A recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office identified hundreds of alleged incidents of abuse by guardians in 45 states in the past 20 years.