Pair Of Juvenile Justice Reform Bills Continue To Gain Traction In Fla. Legislature

Mar 26, 2015

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A pair of juvenile justice reform bills is continuing to gain traction in the Florida Legislature.

The Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee unanimously passed two bills related to juveniles.

The first bipartisan measure (SB 378) deals with essentially expanding the juvenile civil citation program statewide. It’s authored by Rep. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) and Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville).

Currently, civil citations are given to youth who admit they committed a first-time misdemeanor. The bill would now allow for law enforcement to issue a civil citation for those who have committed a second degree misdemeanor or subsequent misdemeanor.

And, Gibson says officers have other avenues at their disposal.

“They can issue a simple warning to the young person or inform the young person’s parents about the misdemeanor or may issue a civil citation and/or more than just one time so we give young people extra time to fix things and get themselves in order.”

Elder James Miles from Bethel Community Baptist Church in St. Petersburg says while he likes the bill so far, more could be done.

“Because last year in the state of Florida, there were 13,000 youth that were arrested, but did not receive civil citations,” said Miles. “The majority of these children were arrested for things like cursing a teacher in school, disorderly conduct, or stealing a t-shirt from a store. These records will keep them from getting college scholarships, getting jobs, and maybe even getting into the military.”

But, Samantha Padgett with the Florida Retail Federation and Florida Petroleum Marketers Association says while the groups she represents support the bill’s goals, they still have concerns as it relates to organized retail crime. She says what may look like simple shoplifting may actually be a broader ring where specific items are targeted and stolen.

“Our loss prevention professionals tell us that as it stands right now, juveniles—while they sometimes play a role in these rings—they are not commonly recruited to participate,” said Padgett. “What they’ve expressed to us in reviewing this bill is because this bill offers multiple chances to participate in this civil citation program that they may be targeted because they will have multiple bites at that first offender apple. So, where right now they are not targeted to participate, this may increase their participation in those rings because they can participate in these programs.”

The measure still has the support of the Florida Sheriff’s Association, says Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. And, he says they would also be more supportive if the bill included a database to track civil citations.

“Right now, if the Fort Lauderdale Police Department comes in contact with a kid at Publix because the kid stole a candy bar and issues a civil citation,” explained Gualtieri. “Tomorrow, the Broward County Sheriff office comes in contact with the same kid at a different Publix down the road. They have no way of knowing that the kid was issued a civil citation or entered into a diversion program the day before because the cops on the street have no access to any database.”

So, Gualtieri says he foresees law enforcement officers encountering more problems with implementing parts of the bill with no database that can track those youth who’ve received civil citations across city and county lines.

“So, here, in this proposed bill, when it says it would allow diversion for a second time and it requires written justification as to why you’d making the arrest, but the cop who’s making that decision—unless it’s his or her own agency—they have no way of knowing as to if this is this kid’s first, second, fifth, or tenth bite at the apple. So, that really needs to be fixed Senator. That is a big problem,” he added.

And, Garcia and Gibson say they intend to work with all the stakeholders involved to iron out their concerns.

The other measure (SB 312) that passed by Sen. Nancy Detert (R-Venice) would expand the courts authority to order restitution when a child is found to have committed a delinquent act.

“I think this is just another piece of the puzzle on the path that we’re taking regarding juvenile offenses,” said Detert.

In Detert’s bill, the court can make the child and the child’s parent or guardian pay restitution, if it’s deemed appropriate. They can also be absolved of paying if it’s the child’s first offense. If they can’t pay right away, they can also go on a payment plan. Foster parents are not considered responsible for the child’s delinquent acts. Meanwhile, both bills’ House companions are also moving in that chamber.

For more news updates, follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter: @SaschaCordner.