DeSantis vetoes GOP-backed criminal justice reform bill

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) has vetoed a GOP-backed criminal justice reform bill that passed with almost unanimous support in both houses of the Florida state Legislature. 

DeSantis issued the veto Tuesday and officially informed the Florida secretary of state but did not include his reasoning. 

The legislation, House Bill 605, would amend the Florida statute concerning the expungement of criminal history records, which currently prevents an individual from seeking an expungement if they previously have received a sealing or expungement, unless they were seeking an expungement of a record previously sealed for 10 years. 

The bill would add another exception for individuals who previously received an expungement for an offense that was committed while they were a minor. It would not apply to a minor who was charged as an adult. 

The statute concerns records including indictments, charging documents or other information. 

Individuals would not need to meet the requirement of the record being sealed for at least 10 years. 

The legislation was originally introduced by state Rep. David Smith (R). It passed in the state House by a vote of 107-2 and in the state Senate unanimously. 

The Hill has reached out to DeSantis and Smith’s offices for comment. 

The Tampa Bay Times reported that Smith said last month that he considers the expungement of criminal records to affect the workforce and would let people work “at the highest level they’re capable of.”

He said he hoped it would help workforce shortages, and the people affected would be those who have not been convicted of any crime in Florida. 

Smith told the outlet that he is “disappointed” the bill was vetoed but is “committed to good justice reform policy that gives deserving Floridians second chances.” 

He told The Hill he is not planning to push for the legislature to override the veto.

“Although I was not given any explanation for the veto from the Governor’s staff, I was told by a senior staff member that they would work with me on improving the bill language before the 2024 legislative session with the expectation of having the bill signed into law next year,” he said.

Some advisers familiar with DeSantis’s thinking told NBC News that the governor issued the veto to position himself as being tough on crime amid his presidential run for the GOP nomination. 

“Gov. DeSantis has always been a law and order leader. While well-intentioned, he seems worried about the ratification of a more lenient view on criminal records,” one adviser said. 

DeSantis said last month that if elected president, he would push for Congress to repeal the First Step Act, a criminal justice reform bill signed by former President Trump that lowered mandatory minimum sentences and expanded credits for well-behaved prisoners looking to have their sentences reduced.

Smith, who has endorsed DeSantis for president, said he will continue to support the governor in his run.

This story was updated at 6:12 p.m.

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