State Rep. Gail Pavliga (R-Portage County) gave her first testimony on House Bill 226, which increases legal protections for Guardian ad Litems (GALs) and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs). This bill makes it a first degree misdemeanor for someone to abuse, threaten, or harass a GAL or CASA in carrying out their court mandated duties for the protection of children across the state.
Dr. Pavliga and State Rep. Adam C. Miller (D-Columbus) are both joint sponsors on the bipartisan bill. Dr. Pavliga spoke to the legislation today during the House Criminal Justice Committee hearing.
“These individuals serve the court, but are not afforded the same protections as officers of the court, like lawyers and judges are,” said Dr. Pavliga. “This can leave them subject to harassment, intimidation, stalking, or worse from those who disagree with their independent, court assigned assessment. We are now seeing a shortage of GALs and CASAs because many are afraid of the repercussions they will face when giving their opinion on what is in the children’s best interest.”
Dr. Pavliga noted that GALs and CASAs are advocates appointed by judges to determine what is in the best interest of a minor or adults subject to guardianship that do not have an attorney of their own.
GALs are courted-appointed individuals that assist a domestic or juvenile court in determining what is in a minor’s or other court-designated parties’ best interest. GALS most often serve in dependency, neglect or abuse cases. CASAs are volunteers who have been trained to advocate for the best interest of a child who has been abused or neglected. Unlike GALs, they work exclusively on cases involving children. GAL and CASA members can stay on a case for several years.
The legislation comes after Dr. Pavliga worked to include an amendment that was put into the recently House-passed state budget. The amendment increases appropriations for CASAs by $1.5 million for each fiscal year, $500,000 for administrative costs associated with CASA programs and includes another $1 million to establish CASA programs in areas of the state where they are not yet established.
“It’s certainly one of my goals to bring a CASA program right here in Portage County to ensure the stability and protection of our children,” Dr. Pavliga added. “I am still working on that endeavor currently.”
House Bill 226 currently has 12 cosponsors and awaits another hearing within the House Criminal Justice Committee.
To watch Dr. Pavliga’s full testimony, please visit here.