House Judiciary Committee Approves Juvenile Justice Bill

Apr 20, 2017

The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill changing how juveniles are punished for low-level offenses. But the addition of an amendment allowing mercy for adults is drawing concerns. 

The proposal by Seminole Republican Larry Ahern requires law enforcement to remove the arrest of a juvenile offender for some first-time misdemeanors. Yet it continues to undergo changes. An amendment added by Longwood Republican Scott Plakon allows adults arrested for certain crimes to enter a diversion program. Plakon says adults also deserve an opportunity to avoid an arrest record.

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“This bill, or amendment, rather, is just another version of that mercy. One that would be in the pre-arrest stage, before there is a mugshot that will impact these people for the rest of their lives.”

While Ahern’s bill has found support among lawmakers, Plakon’s amendment is sparking some criticism. Venice Republican Julio Gonzalez says the issue of juvenile justice is being “tainted” by adding adults into the debate.                                                

“These issues are now tainted by discussion over adults. And it opens up a completely separate discussion that I don’t think is conducive for finding out what the best solution is for children," Gonzalez said.

The Florida Sheriffs Association is backing the House bill. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri supports Plakon’s amendment and cited his district’s successful diversion program. But Gualtieri and the Sheriffs are opposed to the Senate version of the bill over claims it takes away their discretion over charges.

Ahern is facing calls to further amend his bill so it more closely resembles Senator Anitere Flores’s version.  Her proposal would require law enforcement to issue civil citations for a juvenile’s first arrest. Speakers like Reverend Bernice Powell Jackson says civil citations are a better way to give kids a second chance.

“A child who receives a civil citation does not need an expungement because they have not been arrested. There should be no need for discretion for these non-serious misdemeanor offenses by our children," Powell Jackson said. "Everyone of us in this room has needed or will need a second chance – and civil citations provide that for our children.”

The bill now heads to the House floor.