by WTLV First Coast News’ Anne Schindler
May 30, 2017
Background checks are a fact of life for anyone seeking a job, an apartment, even — in some cases — a girlfriend.
But a bill headed to Gov. Rick Scott would remove millions of records from the statewide database used to conduct background checks. The move would effectively hide arrest records from landlords, school systems, even the media.
Senate Bill 118, if signed, will automatically seal the records of anyone found not guilty of a crime, or who had their charges dropped. County courthouses would still have the charging documents on file, but they would not show up on the Florida Department of Law Enforcement database. Anyone looking for records would need to know in which county a person was charged, or search each of the state’s 67 counties individually.
Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, notes that bill changed substantially at its final hearing. As originally drafted, it merely expanded the state’s expunction statute – a process in which expungement applications are reviewed and ruled upon by FDLE and a judge.
The bill was amended after FDLE said processing the additional applications would cost millions and require 32 additional employees. The amended version simply seals the records automatically, without review. It also eliminates restrictions that currently prohibit certain charges from being placed under seal – including allegations of domestic violence, and crimes against children, the elderly and the disabled.
“You could have a serial child molester, for example, who’s been tried and acquitted five times and there’s not a record of their charges on the FDLE website,” says Petersen. “This is as much a public records issue a transparency issue as it is a public safety issue.” [READ MORE]