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More Juvenile Justice Reform Bills Moving In Florida House

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Several bills aimed at reforming Florida’s juvenile justice system cleared another hurdle in the House Monday.

The House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee passed three juvenile-justice related bills, including one essentially expanding Florida’s civil citation program by  Rep. Gwyn Clarke-Reed (D-Deerfield Beach).

It allows law enforcement to have the discretion to issue civil citations to a juvenile who admits to a misdemeanor.

One mother and backer of the bill is Monica McIntyre from Daytona Beach. She says she wishes her son could have benefited from the measure.

“I am a parent of a son who was arrested last year for stealing $40 worth of cards out of a store,” she said. “Last night, I googled his name, and his mug shot still shows. So, this is not excusing their behavior, but this is just allowing them to move forward from this.”

Fred Bergeron representing Prince of Peace Catholic Church brought up another example of a five year-old special needs child he heard about last year who now has a record.

“She slapped the Kleenex out of a teacher’s hand,” he said. “And, although she wasn’t handcuffed, our school resource officer did file the paperwork, and now she has a misdemeanor for battery on her criminal record. She is now going to be branded a criminal for the rest of her life. She will face barriers to getting employment and getting college scholarships.”

Still, while the Florida Retail Federation supports the premise of the bill, its General Counsel Samantha Padgett expressed concerns she’d voiced in the Senate about limiting the number of citations to three—as opposed to an unlimited amount as the bill currently allows for.

The Florida Smart Justice Alliance and the Florida Public Defenders Association also agreed. So, did Rep. Eric Eisnaugle (R-Orlando), the only one to vote against the measure.

“I think that you can’t have a system that just allows kids to never have consequences,” said Eisnaugle. “At some point, there’s got to be an end to civil citations. At some point, a kid’s got to know that ‘hey, look, if I commit another crime—whether it’s a misdemeanor or not—that there’s going to be some kind of consequence.' And, so I hope it will be narrowed for the floor because I would like to support a reasonable expansion of civil citation.”

The bill’s sponsors are also expected to look into including a civil citation database that all law enforcement can have access to.

Another measure that passed is authored by Rep. Dane Eagle (R-Cape Coral).

It’s a measure that he’s filed for the past several years that has garnered support in the House—not so much in the Senate, but he says it has a chance this year as it’s starting to move in that chamber.

He says he filed the measure because of a person in his district.

“Basically, what had happened was that as soon as I was elected, I got an e-mail from a constituent,” said Eagle. “She was away on vacation. A juvenile had broken into her home, and caused a significant amount of damages. He was tried and convicted. The judge tried to order restitution on the juvenile. He was unable to pay. Due to a loophole in the law, the parents were not held reasonable. At the end of the day, the victim was stuck with the bill. Through no fault of her own, she was held responsible for this child.”

So, Eagle’s measure expands the court authority to make those kind of calls.

“It would apply strict restitution, or strict liability upon the parents of the juvenile committing the crime,” added Eagle. “There are instances where the judge is able to take into account the parent’s financial situation. If it’s up to their purview, they’d be able to ask for payment plans or it could be community service could be done in lieu of financial payment.”

The measure passed the committee unanimously. So, did another measure expunging the criminal records of minors by the time they turn 21 if they’re not classified as serious or habitual offenders.

Rep. Chris Latvala (R-Clearwater) is the bill’s main sponsor.

“This issue was actually brought to my attention as a result of a case in my district of a young lady who is now 27 or 28 years old who was a foster kid at the time that she threw an egg out the window when she was 16-years-old, got charged with a felony, as a foster kid, didn’t have, I guess, the greatest legal representation, and so, she walked into the court and pled guilty to a felony, which has followed her throughout her life,” said Latvala.

And, after listening to come concerns, Latvala promised to look into whether there’s enough money in the budget to allow juveniles in the foster care system to be eligible for fee waivers in the expungement of their records.

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

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