Lauren Book’s child protection bill advances to committee

Senator Lauren’s book Bill that would ensure that a lawyer is appointed for state-in-care children advanced in committee on Tuesday – but not before the bill drew harrowing testimony for both pro and con.

The legislation of the Democratic leader in the Senate (SB 948) would establish the Office of the Representation of Children to provide a lawyer to represent a minor involved in abuse or neglect, subject to delinquency proceedings or subject to parental termination of their rights. Rep. Randy Maggard submitted an identical invoice (HB 1549) in the House.

Currently, a lawyer is only appointed to represent a child if the Guardian Statewide Announcement Office recommend it.

Some who appeared before the Senate Committee on Children, Families and Seniors wanted to ensure that this does not undermine the role of the guardian ad litem.

Eileen Smithwho identified herself as the 24/7 ad litem guardian, said she feared the lawyer would become just another person on a merry-go-round of paid people in the lives of children who have already a group of characters turning in their life.

“In my opinion, this adds yet another underpaid lawyer to a room that is already full of underpaid lawyers,” she said. “Every time one of these positions changes, knowledge of the case is lost, a relationship with that child is lost, and the child has to be learned by a new person who arrives.”

Corn Dustin Vegawho grew up in the addiction system, said he is now 30 years old and has appeared in court for all his friends who are under the age of 30 or who couldn’t speak for themselves.

“It took me a long time to get out of a placement system that was abusive towards me, and the only way out I found from a LAG (ad litem guardian) who never cared, a courtroom who never heard me, was to steal a car and run away, ”he said.

He said things did not start to change until he was represented by a lawyer.

“Giving a voice to a child gives them hope and courage for the future,” he said.

Democratic Senator Darryl Rouson said he could appreciate the passion on both sides of the debate.

“All the speakers, both for and against… it’s obvious to me that you care about the child,” Rouson said. “While I am against government growth, it makes sense that it would help a bad situation to improve. “

Book said she understood why some had reservations about adding another protector beyond the ad litem guardian.

“I want to be clear that the (State Office of) Guardian Ad Litem is not going anywhere,” she said. “We want to make sure that children have an ad litem guardian… The only way to ensure that a child has a voice and that voice is heard in court is to have a lawyer speak for that child.”

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