Lawmakers in a House committee have given the okay to a number of claims bills. Regan McCarthy reports among the measures now moving through the house are two proposals the Senate President calls priorities.
Senate President Mike Haridopolos announced before the legislative session began that he would do all he could to ensure the passage of two claims bills this session. One measure would compensate William Dillon who spent 27 years in prison for a murder he did not commit. The other would pay for the care of a man named Eric Brody who was severely injured almost 14 years ago in a crash with a speeding Broward County Sheriff’s deputy who was late for work. The proposal passed through the Senate last year, but was held up in the House.
“As we all saw at the last night of session we hoped this bill would have passed and we felt we had the support in both the House and the Senate and of course form the governor’s office. And what we’ll be pushing, again, early in the session this year so there’s plenty of time is to provide the Brody family with some finality and justice."
And Senate President Haridopolos made good on his word, making the claims bills the first to pass the Senate this session. Body’s father, Charles, says waiting on a decision has been difficult.
“What’s going to happen when we have the committee meeting, what’s going to happen in the House, we’re driving up nine hours, we’re being put in a position where we’re at the mercy of the legislature...”
But following the Senate’s move the proposal stagnated in the House. House Speaker Dean Cannon says often claims bills get caught up in politics. He says though he feels some claimants do deserve payment it isn’t an issue that should be taken up lightly.
“We’re talking about individual facts where we’re asking to waive the law. Keep in mind that all these claims involve sovereign immunity which is otherwise the law that would prevent the recovery above sovereign immunity limits.”
Representative Bill Hager, a Republican from Boca Raton, says he votes “no” consistently on all claims bills. He takes issue with the idea that claims bills ask legislators to make exceptions to the law for some people in certain cases.
“I believe we are a nation of laws and not of men. I believe this one off approach makes us a nation of men and not laws. Our charge is to bring to bear uniform public policy, the same law for all at all times.”
But others like Representative Richard Steinberg, a Democrat from Miami Beach, argue the claims process isn’t a way to skirt the rules, but an intentional part of the rule of law.
“Yes, there’s sovereign immunity, but the law also provides for this process, so it’s not that we’re doing something that is unlawful or not contemplated. When the state created sovereign immunity they also created a relief valve understanding that there will be circumstances that will come and arise that will justify the waver of the cap, the lifting of the cap, whatever you want to call it, in individual circumstances.”
Lawmakers considered several other claims bills including one for Aaron Edwards who suffers from cerebral palsy due to alleged negligence during his birth 14 years ago. The measure, which would be the largest claims bill in the state’s history, would require a public hospital in Lee County to pay about $31 million. But Mac Stipanovich who represents the hospital says the hospital did nothing wrong and argues an “off the charts” payment would be unfair. Stipanovich says the hospital doesn’t have the insurance to cover the payment and adds that this is the first claims bill the hospital has faced in 50 years of operation.
“It thought it had sovereign immunity, not sort of immunity.”
The committee unanimously passed the proposal to reimburse the man who spent 27 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit. Aaron Edward’s bill passed 12-1 The Body bill passed through the House committee with an 11-1 vote. It faces one more committee stop in the House. Of 17 claims bills considered Friday only one measure failed to pass the committee.