After #FreeBritney, Governor Newsom signs legislation limiting conservatories in California

LOS ANGELES — California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday signed legislation limiting guardianships that grant legal guardianship to individuals, a move that comes after Britney Spears’ guardianship case drew national attention as she attempted to take control of her finances and her family regain livelihood.

The new law, authored by Democratic Assembly member Brian Maienschein, will require judges to document all alternatives to a conservatory before granting one. It aligns with similar legislation passed in other states at the urging of proponents. In a statement, Democrat Newsom said the state is committed to protecting the rights of Californians with disabilities.

Individuals deemed unable to make certain life decisions for themselves may be placed under legal guardianship, in which a court-appointed supervisor is given control of their finances and other critical aspects of their lives, sometimes without their consent. They most commonly affect people with developmental or intellectual disabilities, or people with age-related problems such as dementia.

Advocacy groups claim that people like Spears, who have been under a conservatorship for nearly 14 years, can be trapped in a system that strips them of their civil rights and ability to represent themselves.

“This action is an important step in empowering Californians with disabilities to receive the support they need to support themselves and their finances while maintaining as much control over their lives as possible,” Newsom wrote in a signing statement, calling the new law a “transformative reform protecting the self-determination of all Californians.”

Spears, the pop singer and Mississippi native who has publicly struggled with her mental health, landed herself at the center of a widespread #FreeBritney campaign aimed at restoring the pop singer’s authority over her medical, personal and financial decisions. She claimed she was the victim of misconduct by her father, James Spears, who was her conservator.

Fans and supporters rallied online and in person to draw attention to Spears’ situation. Documentaries from The New York Times and Netflix on the impact of Spears’ guardianship put a renewed spotlight on the case and the broader guardianship process. She was a 26-year-old young mother who faced several public mental health issues at the height of her career in 2008, when her father was initially pursuing conservatory studies on a temporary basis.

A Los Angeles judge shut down Spears’ conservatory last year, a victory followed by proposed legislation to protect conservators’ rights and efforts to make it harder for people to get into one.

Maienschein, representing portions of San Diego, thanked the governor in a statement and stressed the importance of ensuring the autonomy of people with disabilities.

The new law will give potential conservators preference in selecting a conservator and make it easier to terminate estate conservators.

The disability rights organization Disability Voices United described the news of Newsom’s decision as historic.

“This law affirms that conservators should be infrequent and a last resort,” the group wrote. “The default should be that people with disabilities retain their rights and get support when they need it.”

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved. After #FreeBritney, Governor Newsom signs legislation limiting conservatories in California

Laura Coffey

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