Maine lawmakers consider bill inspired by the late Peter Falk

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AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Lawmakers in Maine and other states are considering legislation stemming from a dispute among family members of actor Peter Falk near the end of his life.

The bill, crafted by Falk’s daughter, protects family members’ rights to visit ailing or incapacitated loved ones. Catherine Falk became an advocate for family members’ rights after taking legal action to see her father before his death. Peter Falk, who starred in the hit TV series “Columbo,” died in 2011.

Catherine Falk told The Associated Press on Thursday that lawmakers in more than 20 states, including Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut and Rhode Island, are considering similar bills.

“I am doing this to honor my father but most importantly to help protect people across the country who suffer in terrible isolation,” she said.

The bill’s sponsor, Arthur Verow, D-Brewer, introduced the measure after meeting with Catherine Falk last month at a conference for state lawmakers in Washington, D.C.

Verow missed a deadline for submitting bills, but legislative leaders will decide Feb. 25 whether the bill can go forward as an emergency measure.

Under current Maine law, a spouse or the closest family member generally makes decisions for the person if he or she becomes incapacitated. When disputes exist or arise among family members, legal guardians sometimes block some relatives’ access to the person, Verow said.

The bill requires a guardian to inform immediate family members of their relative’s hospitalization or death. It also allows immediate family members recourse through the court system if they believe they are being unreasonably prevented from seeing the person.

In her written testimony to the Legislative Council, Falk said Peter Falk’s guardian would not give her access to him when he was suffering from dementia. She said she spent more than $100,000 in legal costs so she could see him before he died.

Peter Falk, who died at 83, had a long career in film, stage and television. He is best known for his role as Columbo, a seemingly distracted homicide detective in the Los Angeles Police Department who appeared at crime scenes in a rumpled raincoat. The show originally aired on NBC from 1971 to 1978.

— Written by Tom Bell

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