The #FreeBritney movement massively picked up steam this year, especially after a popular New York Times Presents documentary examined Britney Spears’ conservatorship. Within two months of its premiere, Framing Britney Spears had already inspired three bills aimed at changing conservatorship laws in California, as the Los Angeles Times reported on March 26. Now one has been signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, as People reports, with the goal of helping to curb conservatorship abuse.
Introduced by Assemblyman Evan Low (D, San Jose), Assembly Bill 1194 called for various changes — notably ones that could potentially prevent financial abuse. He acknowledged that the bill was “partly inspired” by Framing Britney Spears in a press release on Sept. 13, calling her conservatorship “heartbreaking.” Previously, he had told the LA Times that the system “does not always protect individuals like [Spears].” The bill proposed multiple reforms, for example, punishments for conservators who don’t act in their client’s best interests, plus financial training for conservators who are not licensed professionals and oversee estates valued at $1 million or more.
Two other California lawmakers, state Sens. Bill Allen (D, Santa Monica) and John Laird (D, Santa Cruz), joined Low as co-authors on the bill. They had been inspired after Framing Britney Spears to introduce Senate Bills 724 and 602, respectively. Allen aimed to give the person under conservatorship more say in their legal representation, and Laird wanted to give courts the option to increase the frequency of conservatorship reviews, which are meant to determine if the conservator is acting in the conservatee’s best interests.
In March, not long after the bills were introduced, caregiver services attorney Bertha Sanchez Hayden told the LA Times that she doesn’t want people to assume all conservatorships are bad, as the system is necessary for many people. She noted that conservators do not just control finances but are also responsible for duties such as “ensuring a person has suitable housing or is able to go to the doctor.” AB 1194 calls for the state’s conservatorship system to be formally reviewed by 2024, so there will be an effort to continue to identify and address the areas that do need reform.
Although Spears herself said she was “embarrassed by the light” the documentary painted her in, Framing Britney Spears did drastically increase awareness of the controversial conservatorship she’s been under since 2008. After it premiered on Feb. 5, fans and celebrities alike reacted, with many worrying that the complex legal situation had given the pop star’s father, Jamie Spears, too much decision-making power over her personal life, finances, and career. He ultimately filed his resignation in August (despite his team saying there were “no grounds for removal”), and Judge Brenda Penny made it official in a Sept. 29 hearing.
As for the future, Spears says she has “healing to do.” Hopefully, those struggling in similar situations will get the chance for that, too, especially once the new law goes into effect in 2024.
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