Supported Decision-Making in the Lone-Star State
Eliana J. Theodorou
“Supported decision-making,” an alternative to guardianship that allows an individual with an intellectual or developmental disability to retain his or her legal capacity and make decisions with the assistance of trusted supporters, has been gaining traction in the United States since the mid-2000s. Scholars have highlighted the significance of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD), which entered into force in 2006, in explaining the recent rise in interest in supported decision-making across the world. CRPD Article 12 recognizes that people with disabilities are entitled to equal recognition of their legal capacity by states parties and requires states parties to provide the support that people with disabilities may need in exercising legal capacity. In 2015, Texas became the first state in the United States to pass legislation formally recognizing supported decision-making agreements as alternatives to guardianship. Attention to Texas’s experience suggests, however, that the CRPD may have limited salience in conservative state legislatures, and demonstrates that other forces are contributing to the appeal of supported decision-making in the United States today. Part I provides a brief overview of guardianship and supported decision-making, and discusses how supported decision-making has many features that are simultaneously appealing to actors within the disability rights movement and American political conservatives. Part I next discusses Texas’s initial interest in supported decision-making and its 2009 supported decision-making pilot project. Part II identifies two issues that put guardianship in general on Texas legislators’ agendas in the years leading up to the passage of supported decision-making legislation: the issue of guardianship abuse and concerns about the impact of the aging of the population on probate courts. Part III explains how advocates organized to draft and pass supported decision-making legislation and other guardianship reform bills. Section A provides an overview of the legislation ultimately passed; Section B focuses on the organization of the Guardianship Reform and Supported Decision-Making Workgroup (GRSDM) and its community-organizing style of work; Section C explores how GRSDM won the support of key, influential stakeholders; and Section D shows how different actors used different narratives to promote sup- ported decision-making, with some emphasizing self-determination, while others emphasized efficiency and cost savings. Part IV discusses lessons that can be applied in other states and Texas’s implementation efforts so far.