Florida bill seeks to keep kids out of jail

Bill would give law enforcement more authority to issue citations


TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Senate dropped 68 bills on Gov. Rick Scott's desk Thursday night, including one that lawmakers said will keep kids out of jail by giving law enforcement more authority to issue citations.

But retailers lobbied hard to make sure they wouldn't be hurt by the proposal.

If the bill isn't vetoed, it will take effect this October.

Florida had more than 70,000 arrests involving minors last year. While the number is trending downwards, lawmakers are hoping an expanded citation program will help even more.

A bill passed the Legislature this year that would expand a police officer's authority to issue a citation for a non-violent crime.

Justice reform advocate Barney Bishop said the numbers make the case.

"Law enforcement officers would arrest those kids, it could be for something rather innocuous, maybe an open container, maybe truancy from school, and while they're on probation they get in trouble again and go deep into the juvenile justice system, and the statistics show that about half of all the kids that went deep in the JJ system would end up in the adult prison system," Bishop said.

The original bill didn't provide a cap for the amount of citations that could be issued, something that didn't sit well with the Florida Retail Federation.

"We needed a message in the law that said there are consequences that said at some point, you have to learn your lesson and there is a stopping point," said Samantha Padgett, of the Florida Retail Federation.

The bill was amended to include a three-strike limitation. The Florida Retail Federation said that without it, a minor could repeatedly shoplift in organized crime rings with little penalty.

"Organized retail crime is a $2 billion industry in the state of Florida," Padgett said. "There are very sophisticated rings that target items, they go into stores and steal them."

The bill also doesn't mandate an officer to give a citation. They have the discretion to increase a penalty as they see fit.