Compromise struck on sealing of juvenile-court records


OLYMPIA — State lawmakers have struck a compromise on a long-debated bill that would pave the way for sealing “the great majority” of juvenile-court records, in the words of the proposal’s prime sponsor.

The state House voted 97-1 on Tuesday to approve an amended version of House Bill 1651, after unanimous state Senate approval last Friday.

The legislation now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee, who is expected to sign it into law.

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

Courts would be required to hold sealing hearings on juveniles’ 18th birthday or upon completion of the sentence if that comes later. Judges would be bound to seal the record if the minor completed the sentence; the crime was not a most serious offense, sex offense or felony-drug offense; and there was no compelling reason for it not to be sealed.

Courts would also have to automatically seal the record immediately upon acquittal or dismissal of charges.

Currently, residents can petition to seal juvenile records, including acquittal and dismissal records.

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 their whole lives because of mistakes made as kids.

“It’s great that we’ve found a way to make sure we’re not holding people back for the rest of their lives,” she said.

The House’s lone dissenter, Kennewick Republican Brad Klippert, said he voted no because existing laws already protected people who wanted to seal juvenile records.

“The public has a right to know about these crimes,” Klippert said.

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, yearslong 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.”

 

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