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Citation supporters push mandatory measure

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Supporters of legislation aimed at keeping young offenders out of the criminal justice system suggested Tuesday that they would be willing to adjust a list of misdemeanors eligible for civil citations, but do not want to drop a provision requiring law enforcement officers to use the citations in certain circumstances.

"The crux of this bill is its mandatory nature," said Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, during a press conference at the Capitol. "There may need to be places where we change the types of offenses."

Flores said officers also would need to be allowed to detain juveniles if doing so could help avoid violence.

The event came the day after Flores' version of the legislation (SB 196) was approved by the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on a 5-2 vote, over the concerns of some senators and law enforcement officials.

Critics have argued that the bill proposed by Flores is too sweeping in its list of which juveniles might qualify, and that it removes needed discretion for officers.

But supporters said Tuesday that part of the reason for the mandatory provision of the bill is to address instances where African-American and Latino youths face arrest while similar white offenders are given civil citations.

"If we don't make some uniformity around this state, we will continue with disparities in counties, in neighborhoods, in blocks everywhere in this state," said Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville.

Flores' bill still has two more committee stops before it heads to the Senate floor, while a House companion (HB 205) hasn't yet moved.