A bill from Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, aimed at assisting people with special needs in making important life decisions has unanimously passed in the House of Delegates.
HB 2230 seeks to direct Virginia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services to develop a program to educate people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families and others about supported decision-making agreements.
Per the bill, such agreements are a process by which someone with an intellectual or developmental disability may enter into a supported decision-making agreement with a supporter — such as a family member or guardian — who helps explain an issue to the person with special needs so they can make an informed decision.
“They may not need a full guardianship, but do need someone who can help explain money or medical issues to them so that they can make their own informed choices,” Bell said in a news release about the bill’s passage.
According to Bell, supported decision-making is an option to courts and families looking for ways to help a loved one or friend. Virginia also allows for court-approved guardianship and power of attorney.
Though supported decision-making is legal in Virginia, Bell said it is rarely used, and HB 2230 aims to provide training that encourages its use.
“This bill will identify best practices and provide for training and model forms to use,” Bell said. “As we saw with advanced medical directives, making these legal processes easier will make this accessible to more people.”
In presenting the bill to the full House on Thursday, Bell drew on his own experiences with his 18-year-old son, who has special needs.
“We’re in the midst of the guardianship process and we are finding it daunting and hard and expensive,” Bell said before the House vote. “I’m an attorney and a member of the General Assembly, and I have to think that if I find it hard to get through and navigate how the process works, that it has to be so intimidating that a large number of Virginians who would like to have some help with how to do this are put off by it and choose not to.”
HB 2230 is the result of a bill introduced last session by Del. Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church, which led to a work group study that recommended the language of the bill.
Kory, a co-patron of the bill, also spoke before the vote, highlighting the long road the legislation has taken.
“Six years ago, when I was a member of the joint health care commission, I asked for a study on supported decision-making and it took until this year for us to finally put this language in code,” she said.
Though disappointed it took so long to pass, Kory said she was pleased to see the support the bill has gained.
“Here we are and we are getting close to the road that is leading us to a Virginia that is barrier free for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities who would like to live as independently as possible and do so within the law,” she said.
The bill now heads to the state Senate for its consideration.