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House wants diversion programs with tougher qualifications for offenders

The Florida House Monday supported creating pre-arrest diversion programs for juveniles and adults, but the chamber wants to make it “a little bit harder” for offenders to qualify than the Senate does.

The Republican-controlled chamber adopted a “strike-all” amendment sought by state Rep. Larry Ahern, who is championing the bill in the House. The amended bill now states that those suspected of a misdemeanor domestic violence or stalking cannot participate in a diversion program.

The House moved away from the Senate’s proposal, which would have mandated every judicial circuit in the state to create a program and allowed them to choose their offender eligibility criteria.

Under the House proposal, the program may be operated by a police department, a municipality or an entity selected by a jurisdiction.

Sen. Jeff Brandes has made this one of his criminal reform priorities this session, arguing that diversion programs would give law enforcement another tool to serve between a warning and an arrest for low-level offenders. Those who would qualify would be primarily first-time misdemeanor offenders.

The programs would be optional for qualifying offenders and the bill would not get rid of diversion programs that are already operating in the state. And if participants complete the program, they qualify for their criminal records to be expunged from the system.

The proposal has been criticized by the bail bond industry, but Brandes has fired back saying he is “not in the business of making bail bondsman money.”

Both chambers have to approve the change made by the House on Monday, and with days left in the 2018 legislative session, the fate of the bill could rest on whether the Senate approves the change or not.

Written By

Ana covers politics and policy for Florida Politics. Before joining Florida Politics, she was the legislative relief reporter for The Associated Press and covered policy issues impacting immigration, the environment, criminal justice and social welfare in Florida. She holds a B.A. in journalism from San Diego State University. After graduating in 2014, she worked as a criminal justice reporter for the Monterey Herald and the Monterey County Weekly. She has also freelanced for The Washington Post at the U.S.-Mexico border covering crime in the border city of Tijuana, where she grew up. Ana is fluent in Spanish and has intermediate proficiency in Portuguese.

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