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House bill to expunge juvenile records OK’d unanimously by Judiciary panel

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A bill to “streamline” the process for minors to expunge their criminal records bill passed unanimously in the House Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.

A pair of Tampa Bay area Republicans – Rep. Chris Latvala of Clearwater and prime co-sponsor Rep. Chris Sprowls – filed the bill (HB 147) in September.

The bill would cut a break to juvenile lawbreakers who aren’t “serious or habitual offenders.”

For them, the legislation would allow juvenile criminal records to be expunged “five years after the date of the offense” instead of having to wait until the person turns 24 as under current law.

One amendment made a third-degree felony to a first-degree misdemeanor, while another slightly amended language from “sealing” to “expunging” records. Both amendments were adopted without controversy.

Representatives from Florida public defenders, state prosecutors, the Florida Juvenile Justice Association, and Barney Bishop‘s Smart Justice Alliance all waived their allotted time in favor of the bill, to the stated relief of Rep. Charles McBurney, the committee chairman.

“This is part of the whole mission that we’re on in terms of reforming our criminal justice system,” Rep. Gayle Harrell said in debate, one of three Judiciary panel members who co-sponsored the bill. “It’s a very important component of where we’re going.”

Youngsters “make less than intelligent decisions, with no intentions of being criminal, which may lead to unintended consequences,” Latvala said in a statement when filing the bill. “It is my hope that young people who made a mistake are able to have their records cleared and are able to more effectively obtain jobs and careers.”

The bill “allows a path to forgiveness for minor offenses, allowing young people who have made a mistake to seek degrees and meaningful employment,” Sprowls said this fall.

A Senate companion bill – SB 386 by Republican Sen. Nancy Detert of Sarasota – has also swiftly made its way through committee. It’s set to be taken up Thursday in Senate Fiscal Policy, its third and final committee of reference.

Latvala’s office said the bill is supported by Pinellas-Pasco State Attorney Bernie McCabe, Public Defender Bob Dillinger, the PACE Center for Girls, Florida Children First, Florida Youth Shine, the conservative James Madison Institute, the FSU Project for Accountable Justice, and the Florida Coalition for Children.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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