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House Education Committee Approves Bill Updating Juvenile-Justice Law

The House education committee approved a reauthorization of the federal law governing juvenile-justice programs, repeating a move to overhaul the law that it took in the last Congress.

The committee sent the Juvenile Justice Reform Act of 2017 to the full House for consideration on Tuesday via a voice vote. The bill is similar to the Supporting Youth Opportunity and Preventing Delinquency Act of 2016 that the House overwhelmingly approved last September. That bill didn't make it over the finish line, however, before the start of the new Congress.

"It is long past time for Congress to update this law," said Rep. Jason Lewis, R-Minn., who introduced the legislation along with Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., at the committee hearing. (Scott is the committee's top Democrat.) Lewis noted that the federal law the bill reauthorizes, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act, hasn't been updated in 15 years.

Like the 2016 bill, the Juvenile Justice Reform Act requires additional data to be collected and reported on youth in the juvenile-justice system, puts more limits on contact that youth in the juvenile-justice system can have with adult inmates, and requires the Department of Justice to determine whether these programs are following federal law, among other issues. 

Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., also highlighted that the bill restricts the use of pepper spray and other "dangerous practices" in juvenile-justice facilities. 

"These, frankly, medieval practices have no place in the 21st century," Polis said.

The bill has five co-sponsors, including Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., the chairwoman of the House education committee.

At the same meeting Tuesday, the committee also passed the Improving Support for Missing and Exploited Children Act of 2017. An update to the Missing Children's Assistance Act, the legislation is designed to better identify local abductors of children, prevent online exploitation of children, and better protect children who go missing and are the victims of sex trafficking. 

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