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March 11, 2014 at 12:23 PM

Lawmakers OK bill to seal ‘great majority’ of juvenile court records

OLYMPIA — State lawmakers have struck a compromise on a long-debated bill that would eventually lead to the sealing of “the great majority” of  juvenile court records, in the words of the proposal’s biggest supporter.

The state House voted 97-1 on Tuesday morning to approve an amended version of House Bill 1651, after  a unanimous state Senate approval last Friday. The bill is now on its way to Gov. Jay Inslee.

The new version, crafted after contentious negotiations, would no longer designate juvenile court records as confidential but would make it easier for such records to be sealed.

Courts would be required to hold regular sealing hearings on or after the minor’s 18th birthday and would be bound to seal the record if the juvenile has completed the sentence; the crime is not a most serious offense, sex offense or felony drug offense; and there is no compelling reason for it not to be sealed.

Courts would also have to seal the record immediately upon acquittal or dismissal of charges — which is not currently required.

The compromise preserves open juvenile courts, said sponsoring state Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-Lake Forest Park, on the House floor Tuesday. But at the same time, records “will be sealed for the great majority of youth turning 18,” she said.

“The Legislature views juvenile records as unique,” Kagi said. “They are not the same as adult records, and they need to be treated differently.”

Kagi and others had pushed the bill by arguing state residents should not be punished for their whole lives because of mistakes made as kids.

Employers, landlords and newspapers had objected to the bill’s original version but agreed to the compromise.

During the Senate floor debate, several senators said the idea had survived an intense, years-long negotiation.

“This bill is the result of the best that process has to offer,” said state Sen. Steve O’Ban, R-University Place, who sponsored the Senate amendment. “There was quite a bit of involvement, quite a bit of negotiation.”

Comments | More in State Legislature | Topics: juvenile records, Ruth Kagi, Steve O'Ban


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