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Legislators eye shortcomings in 'outdated' filial support law

BISMARCK—Interest among some legislators in revamping the state's filial support law is growing anew and could see some action in 2019.

"I thought it seemed kind of odd that we would hold children and parents liable for each other's debts," said Sen. Dick Dever, R-Bismarck, who characterized the law as "outdated."

Dever, who has been a member of the North Dakota Legislature since 2001, remembers a bill proposed in 2005 aimed at repealing the filial support statute. It was approved unanimously in the Senate, but, ultimately, failed in the House.

Former Sens. Stanley Lyson, R-Willison, and Tom Trenbeath, R-Cavalier, remember supporting a repeal of the statute, also calling it outdated. Legislators were largely unaware of the statute at that time, except for its use in a couple of Supreme Court cases, according to legislative history.

Lawmakers never revived the bill.

Dever said he's not sure why the bill to repeal the statute wasn't ever brought before the Legislature again, but suspects it must have slipped lawmakers' minds.

Steve Leibel, who is the attorney for Phil Shook's children in the Augusta Place lawsuit, said, after he took the case, he contacted local legislators to discuss the repercussions of the statute on his clients.

"This statute is vague," Leibel said. "Really, what we want to see is to present this to the Legislature to try and fix this."

Sen. Erin Oban, D-Bismarck, said she wasn't aware of the statute before Leibel contacted her. She read the legislative history, including the failed attempt to repeal the bill in 2005, and thought about how it could affect a growing number of adults who take care of aging and sick parents.

According to a Congressional Budget Office 2013 report on the increasing demand for long-term services and supports for elderly people, by 2050, one-fifth of the total U.S. population will be 65 or older, up from 12 percent in 2000.

Oban said she was in support of the Senate's effort in 2005 to repeal the bill and believes there are other parts of Century Code that provide some protections "that are not written like this was back in 1877." If reelected to the Senate this year, Oban said she would like to review the statute during the next legislative session and decide whether to repeal it or make changes.

On whether he would like to see the statute repealed or modified, Dever said he's "more inclined to think to modify it" so it's not as broad.

Shelly Peterson, executive director of the North Dakota Long Term Care Association, said the association wouldn't want the statute to be repealed, but clarification might be needed.

"We would certainly support clarifying parts of the statute so that, when the adult child receives an asset, that makes (the parent) disqualified," Peterson said.

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