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State Senate eyes restrictions to juvenile records

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By Mike Baker
Associated Press
OLYMPIA -- State senators began exploring a plan Friday that would restrict public access to juvenile court records, preventing businesses from assessing those crimes in the hiring process.
Supporters of the proposal said it was designed to help people from being burdened by mistakes from their youth, arguing that some employers may be unfairly using those problems to reject job applications. Sen. Nick Harper, D-Everett, said there are indications that the problems follow people for years.
"This bill gets at what it is we're really trying to address, which is emphasizing the rehabilitative nature of the system, not the punitive nature of it," Harper said.
But representatives for prosecutors and newspapers testified that the measure would unnecessarily impede access to the courts, especially since offenders can already go through a process to get juvenile records sealed. Tom McBride, executive secretary for the Washington Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, disputed the idea that businesses would put so much weight on juvenile crimes when hiring someone years later.
"Is the solution to hide that information?" McBride said. "It seems more healthy to deal with that than to push it away."
State law currently allows the courts to defer disposition for one year after the juvenile is found guilty -- after which the conviction can be vacated. People with past cases that have been vacated are currently allowed to petition the court to have the records sealed
The new law would trigger more a more automatic sealing of cases in vacated juvenile cases.
Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, also raised questions about the bill, saying businesses should have a right to know what kind of legal trouble prospective employees may have had.
The Senate panel that began considering the bill did not take action on it Friday.
Rowland Thompson, who represents the Allied Daily Newspapers of Washington, said keeping the records open is important to ensure that the court system is operating properly and fairly. He said the state needs to maintain a presumption of openness in the courts.
"This is a sea change in how all this is done," Thompson said.
Story tags » LegislatureJuvenile Crime

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