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Advocates See DeSantis Veto of Juvenile Records Bill as Missed Opportunity

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Friday, July 9, 2021   

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Republicans and Democrats alike are stunned by Gov. Ron DeSantis' veto of a bill they passed unanimously. It would've expanded the number of young Floridians eligible to have their criminal records expunged.

Top lawmakers and many criminal justice-focused organizations championed Senate Bill 274. But DeSantis said he's concerned that "the expungement of serious felonies, including sexual battery, from a juvenile's record, may have negative impacts on public safety."

Christian Minor, executive director of the Florida Juvenile Justice Association, believes the governor got bad information. Minor said state prosecutors don't send people accused of serious crimes to diversion programs.

"They have standards for offenses that qualify for a post-arrest diversionary programs in each judicial circuit," Minor explained. "So you don't see state prosecutors sending egregious and heinous offenses to post-arrest diversionary programs."

One group applauding the governor's veto is the Florida Police Chiefs Association. Minor, who helped craft the bill, noted they plan to regroup and do more to engage and educate the governor's office about the issue.

According to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, more than 45,000 juveniles were arrested in the state from 2019 to 2020. A disproportionate share are Black youths, at 50.9%. However, of the 8,800 who went through diversion programs in the same period, young white offenders outpaced Blacks who were eligible for the programs.

Minor thinks the governor missed an opportunity to turn thousands of lives around.

"That's 27,000 kids who had been referred to a state prosecutor to a post-arrest diversionary program, made good on their promise to complete it successfully and not get in any more trouble, and have their record expunged," Minor outlined.

Cosponsors of the bill include state Sen. Keith Perry, R-Gaineville, and Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, chairman of the Florida GOP. Sen. Annette Taddeo, D-Miami, and Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Ft. Lauderdale, sent a letter to Florida's Senate president, requesting a veto override.


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