Differing Juvenile Justice Bills Draw Support, Opposition in Florida House, Senate

Mar 8, 2017

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A couple of juvenile justice-related bills are now moving in the Florida House and Senate.

“My name is Judy McGinity,” she said. “I’m from F.A.S.T. from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Clearwater, Florida, and my son is one of the success stories in the civil citation program.”

McGinity’s son, a juvenile at the time, was caught putting graffiti on walls.

“And, instead of being arrested was given an arrest avoidance,” she added. “He had to do an extensive amount of community service, make full restitution to the property owner, and attend 12 weeks of behavior modification classes with the St. Petersburg Police Department.”

And, McGinity says her son learned from his mistake.

“He has not been in trouble again,” she continued. “He now has a job that requires a level 2 background check. He never would have gotten this job, had he had an arrest on his record. Even if we had gotten that record expunged, we know that expunged records can still be seen on a level 2 background check. The CEO of Raymond James, Pastors, school principals have all told us that when they do level 2 background checks, they see expunged records.”

That’s why she’s against a move by the House to replace a bill initially requiring law enforcement officers to issue juvenile civil citations for certain first time misdemeanor crimes. Now, the aim of the House bill by Rep. Larry Ahern (R-Seminole) is to expunge records for those juveniles, and kids applying for jobs won’t have to disclose the arrest.

While McGinity says that’s great, she wants Florida lawmakers to keep both parts of the bill.

“We still need to hold to the original language of this bill to clarify that civil citations should be the default and arresting children for these minor offenses should be unusual,” she stated to House Criminal Justice Subcommittee members Wednesday. “We’re looking to you ensure the expungement language is added to the bill and does not replace civil citation.”

But, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri—also representing the Florida Sheriffs Association says the bill—in its current form—is much better.

“In the original version of this bill, totally 100 percent it eliminated law enforcement discretion,” he said. “If you have a 17-year-old kid who is six-feet tall, who weighs 250 pounds and is sitting at the St. Pete Beach with a can of beer in his hand, a baggie of pot in his pocket, yelling profanities, and he runs from the police. And, the cop has to tackle him. The cop would be prohibited—under the original version of this bill—from arresting this kid and it would be mandatory civil citation. It would also include a crack pipe, a heroin syringe, and all kinds of other things.”

Barney Bishop with Florida Smart Justice Alliance has a few suggestions on how to solve the “mandate problem” without actually making it mandatory.

“Let’s start teaching law enforcement officers from the very beginning the whole concept about civil citations, both for juveniles and adults,” he recommended. “You put it in the curriculum at the law enforcement academies. Then, you’re going to teaching law enforcement officers from the very beginning about how to use their discretion and when it’s appropriate.”

The bill’s Senate companion—which now includes the expungement provision—is different from the House proposal, in that Sen. Anitere Flores' (R-Miami) bill still requires law enforcement officers to issue the civil citations. Still, both bills passed their respective committees. Another measure meant to crack down on and rehabilitate repeat juvenile offenders also advanced Wednesday.

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