Lawmakers introduced bipartisan legislation this week called the “Free Britney Act” aimed at protecting the rights of 1.3 million Americans under conservatorships.
Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC) and Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) named the legislation after pop icon Britney Spears, whose alleged abusive conservatorship, run by her father James Parnell Spears, sparked the #FreeBritney movement around the world.
Spears’ conservatorship was launched to the forefront of cultural and political discourse following the debut of the New York Times documentary Framing Britney Spears on Hulu in February. The documentary, which Spears said made her cry for two weeks, explores her conservatorship, as well as he ascendance to fame and how she was treated by fellow celebrities along the way.Matt Perdie
Spears’ father became her conservator in 2008 after she had several mental breakdowns. Even though Spears went on to have a successful singing career again, her father has maintained total control over her multi-million dollar estate. Spears’ petition to have her father removed as conservator was denied in court on June 30 after she detailed alleged several abuses, including being forced to take birth control.
“To see a woman like Britney Spears have her most basic human rights permanently stripped away from her under the guise of ‘protection’ should be illegal,” Mace said. “Our bipartisan bill will do more than #FreeBritney, it will give anyone in a conservatorship the right to petition the court for a public guardian with absolutely no conflicts of interest, financial or otherwise.”
Crist said the bill “would give persons under guardianship an escape hatch out of abusive guardianships, a caseworker to monitor for signs of abuse and advise them of their rights, and increased transparency because sunshine is the best medicine.”Matt Perdie
The legislation would enable to federal government to give states grants to keep an updated database of all legal guardianships and conservatorships established for legally incompetent adults under state law, according to the legislation. States would also have to assign one case worker per person under a conservatorship. The person under the conservatorship would maintain the right to communicate with and receive help from their caseworker to replace their legal guardian or conservator.
The legislation cites two other cases of conservatorship abuse in addition to Spears’ case as the basis for the bill:
In a November 15, 2019 article, entitled ‘‘Guardian stole more than $500,000 from elderly Pinellas man’’, the Tampa Bay Times reported on a private guardian who allegedly stole over $500,000 from a ward over 11 months.
In an August 2, 2019 article, entitled ‘‘Florida professional guardian Rebecca Fierle: Devoted or dangerous?’’ the Orlando Sentinel reported on severe cases of alleged adult guardianship fraud and abuse perpetrated by a private guardian, including physical neglect, deliberate isolation of wards from their families, financial exploitation, and using ‘‘do not resuscitate’’ orders without permission.
The legislation assessed that “private guardians are at risk for financial conflicts of interest, because a ward’s assets, which they usually control, are used to pay the guardian for their services.”
Furthermore, many people who have been declared incapacitated by a judge and assigned to a private guardian have not even appeared in court, according to the bill. A person who is deemed incapacitated then lacks the legal authority to petition for their guardian’s removal if they believe they are being victimized.
Ultimately, the bill wages such conservatorships are in violation of the 14th amendment to the Constitution of the United States, which protects residents from being deprived of “life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”
“The allegations in the Orlando Sentinel and Tampa Bay Times, along with the inability of Britney Spears to free herself from her father’s control, indicate that State guardianship and conservatorship systems can deprive a United States citizen or resident of liberty and property without due process,” according to the bill.
Mace and Crist are not the first lawmakers to take an interest in Spears’ case. Republican lawmakers Jim Jordan (OH) and Matt Gaetz (FL) requested in March for House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) to hold a hearing about the use of conservatorships.