Gov. Ron DeSantis has vetoed a bill that would have broadened youths’ abilities to expunge their arrest records.
Florida currently allows minors to expunge first-time misdemeanors if they complete a diversion program. However, the proposal (SB 274), carried by Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry and Winter Springs Republican Rep. David Smith, would have expanded juvenile expunction laws to include felonies and other arrests beyond their first offense.
However, DeSantis, a Republican Governor, had reservations about the measure. That’s despite the bill never receiving a negative vote throughout the legislative process.
“I have concerns that the unfettered ability to expunge serious felonies, including sexual battery, from a juvenile’s record may have negative impacts on public safety,” he wrote in his veto letter.
Juveniles who completed a diversion program could have omitted or denied the expunction as well as their participation in that diversion program under the proposal.
The bill’s passage marked 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.
Christian Minor, executive director of the Florida Juvenile Justice Association, had previously touted the measures as one of the most important bills in the 2021 cycle.
“Having worked very hard on this bill with the sponsors and stakeholders, it is a shame to see the veto,” he said in a statement to Florida Politics. “At the end of the day, it’s all about the kids and we look forward to coming back next year and working with the Governor to pass something he will support.”
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 cost for the two additional expunction staff was estimated at $124,921 in general revenue funds.
The measure is one of four bills DeSantis vetoed Tuesday, including a proposal for auto insurance reform. The only other veto from the 2021 Session was an emergency fund measure DeSantis was forced to scrap after updated COVID-19 relief guidance from the federal government.