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Anitere Flores files bill aimed at decriminalizing youth

Sen. Anitere Flores has filed a bill to decriminalize youthful transgressions, a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron.

Flores, a Miami Republican and the Senate President Pro Tempore, filed Senate Bill 196 on Tuesday. The measure allows law enforcement officers to issue juveniles who admit to committing a first-time misdemeanor a civil citation or require the child to participate in a diversion program.

Under the proposal, law enforcement officers could issue civil citations or require a juvenile to participate in a diversion program for several misdemeanor offenses, including possession of alcohol, criminal mischief, and disorderly conduct.

According to a draft of the bill, juveniles who participate in civil citation or similar diversion programs would have to spend a “minimum of 5 hours per week completing” a community service assignment.

Flores’ proposal doesn’t apply to juveniles currently charged with a crime or those who have entered a plea or have been found guilty of an offense that would be a felony if committed by an adult.

The push to decriminalize adolescence is a top priority for Negron. The Stuart Republican mentioned the issue during his designation speech last year and again in November when he formally took over as Senate President.

During his designation speech, Negron said he and his brothers threw water balloons at cars passing by. He celebrated when a balloon hit one of the cars, but said the moment of fun turned somber when his target stopped in the middle of the road.

The man, he told his colleagues, looked him in the eye, flipped down his badge and told him he “hit the wrong car.”

“He marched us up to my father, told him what happened and suffice it to say, that never happened again,” he said during his designation speech.

“Now, take that same factual circumstance in fact pattern and transport it to today. It’s a virtual certainty that we would have been arrested and charged with throwing a deadly missile of conveyance, which I’m sure the Legislature’s turned into a second-degree felony with enhanced penalties,” he continued, only partially joking. “We would have been thrown into the juvenile justice system, our family would have been declared dysfunctional. … I would still be explaining this on my Florida Bar application, trying to get a license to practice law from the Board of Bar Examiners.”

Negron said there is “a delicate balance” and the state will not tolerate serious wrongdoing by young people. But, he said the state should not criminalize adolescence.

Flores’ bill also calls on counties to establish diversion programs, with the concurrence of the chief judge of the circuit court, the state attorney, public defender, and the head of each local law enforcement agency.

A House companion has not yet been filed.

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