Eight pieces of a legislative package cracking down of juvenile criminals won approval on Monday from the Senate Judiciary Committee.
But the committee rejected a proposal to return jurisdiction over juvenile possession of marijuana to juvenile courts, voting 6-3 to reaffirm the 1994 decision to make marijuana possession a criminal misdemeanor.
And after two hours of deliberation, the panel postponed action until next week on possibly the most controversial of the 10-bill package, a proposal to increase from $2,500 to $10,000 the amount of damages done by a juvenile that the parents are financially responsible for.
Action on the legislation came after the House Judiciary Committee last Friday endorsed a proposal to shift responsibility for the juvenile justice system from the Department of Health and Welfare to a new Department of Juvenile Corrections.
The entire juvenile justice plan is the result of a summer-long investigation into the system by a special legislative committee. The call for revamping the system, echoed by both major candidates for governor and supported by Republican Gov. Phil Batt, was intensified a year ago when then 14-year-old James Robert “Bobby” Lee Moore murdered a New Plymouth police officers. Moore pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and is serving a life sentence with no possibility of parole until he is 40.
The full House is expected to act on creation of the new department later this week. Batt has set aside $2 million to finance initially operations along with the estimated $16 million that would be transferred from the control of the Health and Welfare Department.
The bills approved by the Senate panel on Monday would add arson to murder and other serious felonies that juveniles 14 and above are automatically tried as adults for and allow juvenile judges to order those under 14 to be tried as adults for the same crimes if the circumstances warrant.
They also increase the maximum detention for juvenile offenses, makes it a felony to intimidate a witness in a juvenile evidentiary hearing or assault officials in the juvenile justice system, requires all detained juveniles to be fingerprinted and photographed and imposes some financial liability for detention costs on a juvenile’s parents.
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