Leaving Nothing To Chance
My classic comeback to questions about why I chose this field of law [Elder
Law] is that we are all trying to get it right before it really applies to
us! So, if you think the work of the Elder Law Section is for your grandparents
only, think again! How a society cares for its elders says quite a bit about
its priorities. We should leave nothing to chance.
So wrote MSBA Elder Law Section Chair Catherine Stavely in her closing remarks
of her editorial to the Section’s members in the January 2007 edition
of the Section’s newsletter, The Elder Law Extra. And though the new
calendar year was just underway, the Section was already deeply entrenched
in the legal struggle to ensure the proper care of the elderly.
The Elder Law Section possesses a rare trait in the consortium of MSBA’s
Law-Specific Sections: a legislative committee. Led by Morris Klein, a solo
Elder Law practitioner in Montgomery County, the committee is the Section’s
eyes and ears at the State House as it compresses months of legal research,
brainstorming and positioning into the brief, 90-day session undertaken by
the Maryland General Assembly. The committee handles a multitude of responsibilities,
including monitoring Elder Law-related bills that go before the General Assembly,
developing stances on certain bills and, when necessary, providing testimony.
Furthermore, the Section Council reviews any Elder Law-related legislative
issue brought up and chooses its action – whether it wishes to back it,
oppose it or merely comment on the topic.
This year, the 423rd Session met from January 10 to April 9, as 47 State Senators
and 141 State Delegates reviewed more than 2,300 proposed bills. Described
as a “whirlwind,” Stavely, along with Klein and the rest of the
Section, feverishly worked those 90 days to aid not only their clients, but
a massive portion of the population.
“It is imperative to know upcoming rulings and precedents so you can
advise your client,” notes Stavely. “There are federal law aspects
to [Elder Law] and there are Maryland law aspects. Many of our clients are
involved in state programs that are governed by state regulations, so it’s
important to understand how the layers work together and to be able to respond
[to any possible regulation] change.”
As frantic as the legislation period can be, it also has the reputation of
being a long, drawn-out process – or, in Klein’s words, “never-ending”.
Legislation is not born overnight, and it takes time to produce an effective
product, articulate the proper proposal, present it to the General Assembly,
make reforms to the bill and then resend it to the state law makers. One bill
that went through that process this year (and many times before) concerns
“Power of Attorney” and was worked on by Klein and Senator Delores
G. Kelley. According to Stavely, another bill that the Section kept close tabs
on this year concerned the “regulations on Medicaid and procedural issues
on guardianships… because even though there are no local rules, a lot
of counties treat it differently and it is always good to compare and contrast.” On
March 13, Council members (including Klein) testified in Annapolis on behalf
of House Bill 594 “Maryland Medical Assistance Program – Long-term
Care Services for Cognitive and Functional Impairments” because, according
to Stavely, “the bill deals with the level of care requirements for medical
assistance and an awful lot of our clients are applicants for medical assistance.”
Every session period is marked against the 1999 success of the Health General
Article 15-132. For Klein, who has been with the Section since its inception,
it was “our first shot and first major hit.”
With a never-ending process and minimal scores in the legislative process,
where does the drive to keep sticking your hard work out there come from?
“The motivation in getting involved with legislation is from listening
to our clients,” states Klein. “The only way to fix [the improper
treatment] is through legislation.”