Lawmakers approve juvenile arrest expunction bill
Space is being cleared in Jacksonville's jail ahead of a festival this weekend.

The bill has been years in the making.

The House unanimously voted Tuesday to pass a bill to broaden a juvenile’s ability to expunge their arrest record.

That vote gave the bill (SB 274) the Legislature’s final OK before the proposal goes to Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature. The measure passed the Senate unanimously earlier this month.

Currently, Florida allows minors to expunge first-time misdemeanors if they complete a diversion program. However, the proposal, carried by Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry and Winter Springs Republican Rep. David Smith, would expand juvenile expunction laws to include felonies and other arrests beyond a minor’s first offense.

Moreover, a juvenile who completes a diversion program may omit or deny the expunction as well as their participation in a diversion program.

The bill’s passage marks a triumph for Perry, who has carried the legislation for three consecutive sessions.The proposal struggled to gain traction in 2019. And in 2020, the bill died in the Session’s final week.

On the House floor, Smith recognized the work of former Rep. Clovis Watson Jr., a Gainesville Democrat who is now the Alachua County Sheriff. The bill never received a negative vote, Smith noted.

In January, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement estimated more than 26,900 minors — totaling more than 64,343 felony charges — may qualify for juvenile diversion expunction.

“Whether it is a pre-arrest or post-arrest diversion program, the goal of the program is to maximize the opportunity for success and minimize the likelihood of recidivism,” a staff analysis explains.

In a staff analysis, FDLE estimated they will need at least two additional employees and some programming renovations to manage the increase.

Without the extra hands and digital accommodations, FDLE warned, wait times may “significantly increase” to greater than the current 12-week average expunction process time.

The Senate’s budget proposal includes $148,971 and two full time employees to meet the fiscal impact.

“The FDLE estimates that approximately 10% of eligible persons will apply for a juvenile diversion expunction, resulting in an additional 2,690 new applications for processing, a 20% workload increase,” the staff analysis says.

The House also unanimously approved a companion measure (SB 166) that provides the records search exemption for expunged records.

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.


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