Pavliga Reintroduces Bill to Enhance Child-Caring Programs
State Rep. Gail Pavliga (R-Portage County) has reintroduced legislation increasing legal protections for Guardian ad Litems (GALs) and Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs). Pavliga is a joint sponsor of the bipartisan bill as she spoke to it for its first hearing Tuesday.
“This is such an important issue for the well-being of both our advocates and children of Portage County and throughout the state,” Pavliga said. “The legislation will ensure these advocates are given optimal protections as officers of the court.”
GALs and CASAs are advocates appointed by a judge to determine what is in the best interest of a party - usually minors or adults subject to guardianship who do not have an attorney of their own. Pavliga notes the issue is GALs and CASAs are subject to harassment, intimidation and stalking from those who disagree with their independent, court-assigned assessment.
The legislation 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.
Pavliga has been working to improve these programs with this legislation and local officials including Judge Patricia Smith, Doug Stephens from Ohio CASA, and the new Portage County CASA Director Ann Walden to establish CASA programs in Portage County.
“There were 2,459 community members serving as CASA volunteers in Ohio in 2022,” said Doug Stephens, executive director of the Ohio CASA/GAL Association. “We continue to support Representative Pavliga efforts, as a joint sponsor of this bill, to make it safer for our CASA volunteers to perform this important service for Ohio's most vulnerable. Rep. Pavliga has been a committed supporter of Judge Smith's efforts to start a CASA program in Portage County and a valuable partner of Ohio CASA as we continue our efforts to establish a CASA program in every Ohio county.”
During the previous General Assembly, Pavliga advocated to include an amendment that was put into the state budget bill that 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 were not yet established.
The legislation now awaits another hearing to move forward in the House.