HELENA -- Lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee advanced a bill Thursday that would force a person applying to become an adult’s legal guardian to explain to a court why a less intrusive option wouldn’t work. 

Sen. Mary McNally, D-Billings, is the bill’s sponsor. She explained how guardianship works during the hearing on Senate Bill 31, saying guardianship proceedings are the process where a person gives up their civil and constitutional rights, effectively becoming a minor in the eyes of the law. It is a last resort for aging adults or young adults who would be unable to take care of themselves in any capacity. 

Guardians have control over every aspect of their dependent’s life.

Adrianne Cotton spoke in favor of the bill on behalf of the Montana Area Agencies on Aging Association. She explained the history of adult guardianship laws, which she said existed in the Roman Empire. She said since then, guardianship laws have shifted and changed constantly.

“It bears noting that our communities still struggle, after 1,500 years, to find a balance between protecting those who cannot protect themselves, and ensuring the state does not empower bad actors who capitalize on a weakened system, and a vulnerable population,” Cotton said.

Guardianship laws have not changed in the state of Montana for 30 years.

The bill drew widespread support from independent living centers and elder advocacy groups. Beth Brenneman is an attorney with Disability Rights Montana, and urged the committee to pas the bill.

“We should really require that the person petitioning and the judge look at whether or not there are other alternatives,” Brenneman said.

There were no opponents. 

The committee voted unanimously to pass the bill to the full House, where it will face at least two more votes before going to Governor Greg Gianforte’s desk. Rep. Dennis Lenz, R-Billings, will carry the bill on the house floor. 

James Bradley is a reporter with the UM Legislative News Service, a partnership of the University of Montana School of Journalism, the Montana Broadcasters Association, the Montana Newspaper Association and the Greater Montana Foundation.