House Bill 1165, sponsored by Delegate Sid Saab (R, Dist. 33, Anne Arundel County), makes a guardian of a disabled person inform the person’s family if the person has been hospitalized for three or more days or has died. It also requires the guardian to notify family members of funeral arrangements and the burial location if the person dies.
In addition to the notification aspect, the bill gives those family members the ability to file a petition in court to gain visitation with the disabled person. Currently, according to Maryland state law, a judge cannot rule on the visitation issue alone; adult children must file a petition of guardianship.
The bill was first introduced during the 2016 legislative session by Saab as HB43 and received an unfavorable report by the House Judiciary Committee. The crossfiled Senate Bill 70 was sponsored by Sen. Edward Reilly and received a unfavorable report by the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee and was withdrawn. Advocacy groups opposed the bill on the basis that the law would crate hardships for public guardians due to the administrative and legal costs associated with the extra tasks mandated in those bills.
This year, HB1165 had a hearing in late February.
At the center of this bill is famed American Top 40 host Casey Kasem and his daughter Kerri Kasem from his first marriage. At the heart of the subject is the matter of visitation rights.
The fued between Jean Kasem, Casey Kasem’s second wife of thirty years, and children of his first marriage was well-documented in the media. Kasem died shortly after the court gave Kerri Kasem the legal authority to have doctors end her father’s infusion of water, food and medicine, over the objections of his wife.
Most seem to agree that it is a sad situation when an individual is not allowed to visit their parent during the last years of his or her life; however, the debate is a matter of rights and some question if good intentions leads us to a government intrusion that chips away at the rights of spouses.
Victims’ and consumer rights activist Heather Lynette Sinclair opposes the bill and believes it leads us in the wrong direction. “I’ve been very outspoken about this bill because it’s such a bad piece of legislation, and a false narrative is being pushed to sell the bill,” Sinclair told us. “No one is saying that it’s right that certain family members can’t visit. My concern is that this bill expands the court’s power, and allows it to invade our lives more.”
Of concern for some is that the bill allows an appointed investigator to interview not only family members and close friends, but also neighbors. The bill gives the court continuing jurisdiction to vacate or modify its decision and gives the investigator the ability to use information obtained in previous investigations should the issue be brought up again.
“People are abused through the court system every single day, and the court system has no teeth to prevent it. I am absolutely against expanding the power of the court, and chipping away at the rights of spouses, guardians, and parents,” Sinclair continued. “I would support a measure to allow people to petition the court to ask for mediation when visitation is being denied. If the parties can work through the issues, and come to an agreement it’s legally binding, but if they can’t, then the party seeking visits can petition the court for guardianship which is a right they have now.”
Sinclair is all too familiar with how the system can fail the people. She has pushed people-centered bills in numerous states and was successful in working with Delegate Gary Howell in WV to pass two bills last year; one of which is named after her. That bill, Lynette’s Law, had been introduced in Maryland the previous four years, however, the Maryland legislature chose not to introduce it this year.
“People want to pass legislation to expand the court’s power because they have the misconception that the court is their friend, and will ensure that a wrong is made right,” added Sinclair. “It’s not about right or wrong, it’s about what you can prove in court. I am not willing to take a backseat to our rights being stripped away because our lawmakers have an open ear to the privilege of Hollywood.”