Victoria Heuler: New legislation will protect the dignity, autonomy, and rights of Floridians with disabilities

Lonely senior citizen woman in wheelchair in a nursing home. Generative AI.
A structure of supported decision-making can help people with disabilities live as independently as possible.

Florida residents with disabilities deserve respect and robust legal safeguards while maintaining as much independence as possible. House Bill 73 by Rep. Allison Tant (HB 73) and the companion bill, Senate Bill 446 by Sen. Corey Simon (SB 446), create empowerment for Florida’s persons with disabilities and foster a commitment to protecting dignity and the right of every adult to be as autonomous as possible.

In this Legislative Session, The Elder Law Section of The Florida Bar is advocating for the passage of these bills because they address how a structure of supported decision-making can help people with disabilities live as independently as possible. HB 73 passed unanimously in the House on Feb. 15, so now we look to SB 446’s passage as the next step to codifying the proposed measures into law.

HB73 and SB446 will empower persons with disabilities to choose a supporter they trust to help them understand, consider, and communicate decisions. Once this supporter – who could be a family member, friend, or professional – has been identified, a supported decision-making agreement can be executed to formalize the assistance and streamline interactions by the supporter (an agent) with third parties on behalf of the person with a disability (the principal). With 12% of Floridians living with a cognitive disability, this kind of legislation could provide both protection and freedom for thousands.

HB73 and SB446, if passed, will create a supportive legal structure to assist persons with developmental disabilities who have decision-making challenges to conduct their affairs independently and with assistance, but without the need for guardianship.

The bills, once passed into law, would authorize a person with decision-making challenges to appoint a trusted person to help communicate wishes on important topics like health care, employment, relationships, and finances. They would still have the final say on important life choices, but under a supported decision-making agreement, would receive assistance as they compare options and communicate their decisions.

The Elder Law Section advocates for legislation like this that codifies less intrusive and less restrictive means to help Floridians with decision-making challenges. As of June 2023, 27 states and the District of Columbia had adopted similar legislation.

The potential positive impact of HB73 and SB 446 would create another powerful tool for people with cognitive disabilities to promote the individual’s choice in decision-making support. The Elder Law Section of the Florida Bar is committed to supporting legislation that assists people in being as autonomous as possible and HB73 and SB446 work to do just that.

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Victoria Heuler serves as Chair of The Elder Law Section of The Florida Bar.

Guest Author



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