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Civil citations expand with new law

Law goes into effect in October

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JACKSONVILLE, Mich. – Beginning next week, Florida teens who are caught breaking the law will have an expanded chance of getting a civil citation instead of being arrested.

In the last year, just over four of every 10 teens facing misdemeanor charges were diverted into a civil citation program. Current law allows just one diversion, but beginning in October, kids could get up to three civil citations.

ONLINE: County-by-county breakdown of civil citations

Roy Miller of the Children's Campaign calls the program a good use of resources.

"One of the most important things we can do for a child is not saddle them with an arrest record," said Miller. "An arrest record slams the doors to their future shut hard, and so by increasing the number of misdemeanors up to three, we're going to stop children from having arrest records."

Civil citations are not a free pass, and usually involve victim approval, apologies to victims and police, community service time, and even drug intervention or counseling.

Florida retailers opposed the initial version of the bill because it made the citations mandatory in some cases, and because it gave kids an unlimited number of bites at the apple.

Retailers finally got on board when the number of citations was limited to three. Cops got behind the idea when they were left with discretion.

"We're optimistic it will work, but obviously we're interested in going back if we need to and revisiting it depending on the outcome of the bill," said James Miller of the Florida Retail Federation.

Both advocates and retailers will be monitoring the citations. If the number issued doesn't increase, advocates will be pushing for a mandatory citation. And if there are too many repeat offenders, lawmakers will be asked to get tougher on law-breaking kids.

The Children's Campaign estimates that a doubling of civil citations could save taxpayers between $20 and $60 million a year. There are disparities in the program. Eleven of Florida's 67 counties do not have a citation program.