They are among the most vulnerable Nebraskans, and they need some help.
They are some of the approximately 12,000 incapacitated people who rely on guardians, conservators or both to manage their affairs. They include the ill, elderly or severely disabled, often without friends or relatives to serve in that role.
Sadly, they’ve been taken advantage of.
Dinah Turrentine-Sims of Omaha, a court- appointed guardian-conservator, was convicted of stealing more than $400,000 from eight of her wards in 2010. In another case, an appointed guardian is accused of embezzling $600,000 from clients across the state.
The Legislature is on track with the needed remedy: an Office of Public Guardian. Under Legislative Bill 920, advanced by lawmakers last week, the office would provide state-paid guardians for the disabled, elderly and infirm who have no relatives to take care of their affairs.
All 49 other states provide such public guardians, according to State Sen. Colby Coash of Lincoln, the bill’s sponsor.
LB 920 is a reasoned response to a real need. The state would appoint a public guardian as a last resort to make decisions on matters like health care and living arrangements after a court determines that a person is no longer able to make those decisions on his or her own. If a person had the financial means to hire a guardian, he or she would be required to contribute to the cost.
Coash says the bill is crafted to seek out family members first and utilize a public guardian as “a last resort.” The office would be administered through the state court system and is projected to cost $880,000 the first year. While it is projected to double in size during the second year, senators rightly said potential expansion and future expenditures would be reviewed to make certain both are justified.
Those are wise precautions. So is making certain these most vulnerable Nebraskans have someone they can count on to watch over their interests.