WASHINGTON — A bipartisan bill to update the primary federal law that protects juveniles in state and local custody sailed through a key committee on Wednesday.
The House Education and Workforce Committee approved by voice vote the Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act (HR 5963).
The bill updates core protections in the law and gives states new flexibility to address delinquency and gang involvement prevention in local communities. It also includes guidance on preventing racial and ethnic disparities in the system and increased reporting requirements to track how juveniles fare during and after their time in the system.
“These reforms will help more children acquire the skills and the knowledge to hold themselves accountable for their actions, grow into productive members of society and seize opportunities to work toward a brighter future,” said Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Florida, a lead co-sponsor of the bill, before the vote.
The legislation is a long-sought reauthorization of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, a law that sets standards for the treatment of juveniles that states must follow to receive federal funding.
Curbelo and co-sponsor Bobby Scott, D-Virginia, ranking member of the committee, introduced the legislation on Friday. Scott, a long-time champion of juvenile justice reform, stressed that the bill will require states to take into account the latest science on adolescent development and behavior and the importance of prevention in juvenile justice policy.
“We shouldn’t have to legislate this, but unfortunately too often slogans and sound bites have dictated our nation’s approach to crime policy, particularly juvenile crime,” he said.
Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-Rhode Island, introduced a similar reauthorization bill (S 1169) last year that moved easily through committee but stalled on the Senate floor because of objections by Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Arkansas.
It isn’t clear if or when that bill will move in the Senate, especially given the limited legislative days left in this session of Congress. Scott said he’s hopeful the House bill will give momentum to the effort.
“I’m optimistic that with the strong bipartisan support we have for this bill, we’ll be able to work with the Senate and get a bill to the president’s desk,” he said.
The committee passed the bill without any major amendments. Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colorado, introduced but withdrew an amendment that would have prohibited corporal punishment in schools that receive federal funding.