‘Free Britney’: Lawmakers Unveil Bill Spurred by Movement

Prompted by growing public outrage over Britney Spears’s conservatorship, two members of the House of Representatives have proposed a bill that, if passed, would create a pathway for Ms. Spears and other individuals to ask a judge to replace their private guardian or conservator.

The legislation, known as the Freedom and Right to Emancipate from Exploitation Act, or the FREE Act, was introduced on Tuesday by co-sponsors Representative Charlie Crist, Democrat of Florida, and Representative Nancy Mace, Republican of South Carolina.

Under the bill, individuals would have the right to ask that their private guardian or conservator, who is appointed by the judge, be replaced with a public guardian employed by the state, a family member or a private agent, which the bill argues would provide more accountability. Currently, individuals typically must prove in court that abuse or fraud has occurred in order for a guardian to be replaced. The legislation could also help remedy the dearth of data on guardianships and conservatorships in the United States.

“We want to make sure that we bring transparency and accountability to the conservatorship process,” Ms. Mace said in an interview with Mr. Crist ahead of the announcement. “The Britney Spears conservatorship, it’s a nightmare. If this can happen to her, it can happen to anybody.”

The legislation, which refers to Ms. Spears as a pop icon, was proposed as the “Free Britney” movement has gained impressive traction, including among lawmakers, after a New York Times documentary this year revealed Ms. Spears’s yearslong struggle under her conservatorship, which began in 2008 and gave her father broad control over her life and finances. In 2019, Ms. Spears told a Los Angeles judge that under the conservatorship, she felt forced to a stay at a mental health facility and to perform against her will.

The singer’s testimony last month, in which she told a judge that the conservatorship was “abusive” and that it had “traumatized” her, has increased scrutiny of such arrangements.

The bill argues that Ms. Spears’s unsuccessful petitions in court to remove her father, Jamie Spears, as conservator show that her right to due process has been violated. However, the legislation falls far short of systemic reforms many advocates have called for. It would not make it easier to end such a guardianship or conservatorship, nor would it encourage state courts, which largely oversee such arrangements, to use alternatives.

The National Center for State Courts estimated that, in 2011, there were 1.5 million active guardianships alone. (A conservator generally controls an adult’s financial affairs, while a guardian control all aspects of a person’s life. But in practice, there can be little difference between the two arrangements.) Most involve seniors or individuals with disabilities. Individual cases show how little agency an individual can have in a guardianship, but there is no data about how many have petitioned to be freed.

“Guardianship is extremely restrictive,” said Prianka Nair, co-director of the Disability and Civil Rights Clinic at Brooklyn Law School. “One thing that would be extraordinarily helpful is to have legislation that actually says guardianship should be the last measure and that courts should consider other less restrictive ways of providing decision-making support.”

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