Bill to automatically expunge juvenile arrest records passes, but critics say it doesn’t go far enough

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A bill that would automatically expunge a youth’s arrest record after a diversion program is completed passed through a House committee on Monday, but goes in a different direction than its Senate companion.

The House bill sponsored by Seminole Republican Larry Ahern and Deltona Republican David Santiago (HB 205) would allow police officers the discretion to decide when offering a first time juvenile offender a civil citation is appropriate. That’s a distinction from the Senate companion by Miami Republican Anitere Flores (SB 196), which would mandate that law enforcement offer civil citations to juveniles guilty of a variety of 11 first-time misdemeanors.

That difference was noted by the only two members of the public who addressed the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Monday afternoon.

“Why arrest a child for a non-serious misdemeanor when there is another option that we know works better in every sense?” asked the Reverend Bernie Powell Jackson from the First United Church of Tampa. “Why spend more money to expunge a record rather then give a civil citation, which gives the child no record to start with?”

Unlike Flores Senate bill, law enforcement backs the House version because it gives officers discretion on whether to charge a youth with a misdemeanor or a civil citation. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has publicly endorsed the bill, saying it’s modeled on what his agency has been doing with juveniles. However, Carrie Rosalino says HB 205 does not work like the Pinellas system, because that system withholds paperwork from the FDLE and the Dept. of Juvenile Justice if the youth completes the program – not the case under HB 205.

She also quoted a retired U.S. Naval commander as saying that a person who signs up of for the military but claims they have never been arrested because their record was expunged is actually in violation of the law.

“Military regulations trump all other protocols, ” Rosalino continued. “Wee think it’s unfair to block our youth from military service because of this confusing expungement system.”

Those complaints went nowhere with the committee, however, as no member debated the bill before voting to move it through.

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.