SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Governor Gavin Newsom has signed a bill limiting guardianships that grant legal guardianship to individuals, a move that comes after Britney Spears’ guardianship case drew national attention in amid his attempts to regain control of his finances and livelihood.
The new law, drafted by Democratic Assemblyman Brian Maienschein, will require judges to document all alternatives to conservatorship before granting one. It aligns with similar legislation passed in other states, following a push by advocates.
In a statement, Newsom, a Democrat, said the state is committed to protecting the rights of Californians with disabilities.
People deemed unable to make certain life decisions for themselves may be placed under statutory guardianship in which a court-appointed conservator is given control of their finances and other critical aspects of their lives, sometimes without their consent. . They most often involve people with intellectual or developmental disabilities or people with age-related conditions like dementia.
Advocacy groups argue that people like Spears, who has been under conservatorship for nearly 14 years, can find themselves trapped in a system that strips them of their civil rights and their ability to defend themselves.
“This measure is an important step in enabling Californians with disabilities to get the support they need to take care of themselves and their finances, while maintaining control over their lives whenever possible.” writes Newsom in a signing statement.
Spears, the pop singer and Mississippi native who has publicly struggled with her mental health, has found herself at the center of a massive #FreeBritney campaign aimed at giving the pop singer back authority over her medical, personal and financial decisions. She claimed to have been the victim of misconduct by her father, James Spears, who was her curator.
Fans and advocates rallied online and in person to bring attention to Spears’ plight.
Documentaries from The New York Times and Netflix about the effects of Spears’ conservatorship have revived the case and the conservatorship process more broadly. She was a 26-year-old new mother who had suffered several public mental health issues at the height of her career in 2008, when her father sought guardianship, initially on a temporary basis.
A Los Angeles judge ended Spears’ conservatorship last year.
Disability rights organization Disability Voices United called the news of Newsom’s decision historic.
“This law affirms that guardianships should be rare and the last resort,” the group wrote. “The default should be that people with disabilities retain their rights and get help when they need it.”