Commentary

04.17.15

Ohio Poised to Censor Crucial Guardianship Information

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Censorship Stamp

Almost a year ago, The Columbus Dispatch began a series covering alarming gaps and abuse in Ohio’s guardianship system. It didn’t take long for lawmakers to respond and soon we had legislation to help bring reform in Ohio.

Ohio House Bill (HB) 624, sponsored by Representative Dorothy Pelanda (R-District 86) during the 2013-2014 legislative session, would have allowed for the distribution of a ward’s “bill of rights,” and to require that a guardian receive the Ohio Guardianship Guide, prepared by the Ohio Attorney General, and acknowledge its receipt. The idea behind the bill of rights is to provide essentially a cheat sheet for the benefit of all involved spelling out various rights of wards found under law.

What Happened to HB 624?

HB 624 listed 19 specific rights. That list included broad language, such as “to be treated with dignity and respect.” It also mentioned the right “to privacy, which includes the right to privacy of the body.”

This attracted the attention of at least one anti-choice organization.  It opposed the concept of a female ward having the ability and right to terminate a pregnancy without opposition from her guardian or even being informed of that right. The group voiced its objections to lawmakers and, instead of HB 624 passing, it was buried as the Ohio General Assembly wrapped up its legislative session.

With the start of a new legislative session in January, HB 50 was introduced, which incorporates last session’s HB 624 while adding new provisions involving foster care and adoption. Joining Representative Pelanda as the bill’s co-sponsor is Representative Cheryl Grossman (R-District 23).

For more information, read Ohio House Bill 50.

Missing Rights for Wards

Whereas HB 624 enumerated 19 rights in the ward’s bill of rights, HB 50 has fewer. What rights went missing from last session’s bill to this one?

Those would be the aforementioned provision regarding bodily privacy, as well as the rights “to procreate, or to consent or object to sterilization” and “to vote, if legally able.”

In a bill designed to inform some of Ohio’s most vulnerable citizens about their rights, information about four of the most important rights—to bodily privacy, to procreate, to not be sterilized, and to vote—have all been eliminated from view.

Censoring Vital Information

If the bill passes in this form it will not mean those rights do not exist; however, it would put the state of Ohio in the position of deliberately censoring valuable information in a document meant to help wards, guardians, and others involved in the guardianship system.

Here at the ACLU of Ohio we are alarmed about this development and recently contacted the bill’s two primary sponsors with our concerns, as well as members of the committee where HB 50 is being considered. In our letter, we not only express our dismay over the exclusion of these important rights, but ask that two more rights be added: the right to practice religion of their choice, or to abstain from the practice of religion; and the right to be free from unnecessary chemical or physical restraints.  Both those rights are mentioned in a bill of rights currently used in Mahoning County and their inclusion in HB 50 makes perfect sense.

While most issues involving guardianship do not have civil liberties implications, the ones found (or not found) in HB 50most certainly do. That is why we are involved and will remain involved in attempts to amend the legislation to get Ohio government out of the censorship business and back to helping people.

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