Ohio bill protecting elderly and other wards unlikely to pass this year

Ohio House Bill 624, which we discussed back in October, has hit a stumbling block in the Ohio legislature, the Columbus Dispatch reports. The bill, proposed by Rep. Dorothy Pelanda (R) in September, would establish a bill of rights for wards in guardianship situations in Ohio and require that probate courts provide a guardianship guide to guardians that includes the enumeration of those rights. The bill was designed to protect the elderly, individuals suffering from mental illness and other wards from abuse and neglect by guardians. It was set to go to a floor vote last Friday, but was referred back to committee by House leadership when legislators received a letter from anti-abortion group Ohio ProLife Action in opposition to the bill.

The group takes issue with the language in the bill of rights of wards that provides the rights to “privacy of the body,” to “procreate” and to services “suited to the ward’s needs and conditions,” alleging that it may allow underage wards to request an abortion and prevent the guardian from refusing. According to the Dispatch, Ohio law does not differentiate between wards that are minors and those over 18, so legislators wanted to craft language in this bill that would apply across the board, including the many adults in guardianship situations who are elderly or have mental health issues.

At this point it seems unlikely that a modified bill would pass this year, as the legislature is set to finish working on legislation this week, and there is likely to be some debate about whether and how the bill should be amended. The Dispatch reports that the executive director of the Ohio Disability Rights Law and Policy Center has expressed "grave concerns" about changes to the bill at this late time and has said that "the bill represents the consensus of a wide variety of groups that testified in favor of it, and it should not be rewritten without their input."

Rep. Pelanda states that she will introduce a bill next year if this one is not passed. Attorney General Mike DeWine, whose office would create the guardianship guidebook the bill requires, has expressed continuing support for the legislation.