The House unanimously passed a bill Thursday that would broaden a juvenile’s ability to expunge their arrest record in Florida.
State law limits expungement opportunities to minors who complete a diversion program after a first-time misdemeanor arrest.
The bill (HB 195), however, would broaden expunction eligibility to include most felonies. Winter Springs Republican Rep. David Smith is the bill sponsor.
“I think we would all probably agree that justice reform in Florida is a marathon,” Smith said. “This bill is a good first step.”
While the bill is indeed a first step, it’s taken a marathon effort by Smith to get it singed into law.
He and Gainesville Republican Sen. Keith Perry, the companion sponsor (SB 342), nearly enshrined the measure into law last year.
Gov. Ron DeSantis, however, vetoed the bill, citing public safety concerns. “The unfettered ability to expunge serious felonies, including sexual battery, from a juvenile’s record may have negative impacts on public safety,” DeSantis wrote in the veto letter.
The forcible felony exception is the most significant distinction between this year’s proposal and the previous bill, though proponents note diversion would almost never be offered to a violent offender.
It requires the recommendation of law enforcement and the approval of a state attorney. Examples of forcible felonies include murder, rape and kidnapping, among others.
According to a staff analysis, more than 26,000 kids would benefit from the proposal if signed into law. Proponents note that an arrest record is often a hurdle to individual economic opportunity.
“I’ve had parents call me in regards to having kids who are now adults and things like that, and having a hard time getting a job,” said Democratic Rep. Angie Nixon.
Aware of Smith’s efforts on the bill, many lawmakers jokingly voted against the bill before switching their votes. Laughs could be heard throughout the Chamber.
“I thank you just for ensuring that our children, especially ones who have made mistakes, have an ability to have a future,” said St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Michele Rayner. “I think this is the type of legislation that, you know, we can be proud of as a chamber.”
If signed into law, the bill would take effect July 1. It now awaits Senate consideration.