Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, on Tuesday night, vetoed a measure that would have paved the way for tens of thousands of minors to get their criminal records erased after completing a behavioral program.
The veto was unexpected by lawmakers who said the proposal moved through the legislative process with little to no opposition. It was an approach that would have allowed minors with past run-ins with the law to face fewer barriers to employment, housing, and education.
“I am, frankly, dumbfounded… I don’t understand why you wouldn’t give an opportunity to a kid to remake their life,” said state Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Miami Democrat who co-sponsored Senate Bill 274.
The bill would have allowed some 27,000 minors to request their criminal records be expunged following the successful completion of a diversion program for any offense, including felonies. However, discretion would have still been given to either the law enforcement officer who confronted the minor at the time of the offense or the state attorney handling the case.
State law currently allows only juveniles with misdemeanor offenses to get that opportunity.
According to the bill’s sponsor, Senate Criminal, and Civil Justice Subcommittee Chair Keith Perry, DeSantis did not make his concerns about the proposal known during the annual 60-day legislative session. But in a letter Tuesday night, he said he vetoed the bill out of concern for public safety.
“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,” DeSantis wrote.
Perry, a Republican, said the governor’s concerns were “legitimate.” But Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Jeff Brandes, another Republican, said he was disappointed to see the governor use the “most extreme case” as the reason why thousands of others won’t get a diversion opportunity.
“They’re not offering diversion to rapes. They’re not offering diversion for extreme sexual assaults,” Brandes said. “But that is what made the veto letter.”
DeSantis’ veto came a day after attending a conference hosted by the Florida Police Chiefs Association, a powerful lobbying group that opposed the measure during the legislative session.