Governor to decide on $40 million worth of claims bills

Mar 21, 2012

This year, the Florida Legislature passed several claims bills to compensate individuals for injuries or losses suffered due to the negligence of the government. 10 of the bills are on the Governor’s desk, and another has already been signed. As Sascha Cordner reports, with about $40-million dollars in claims to sort through, the Governor says it’s not going to be an easy task.

Governor Rick Scott is calling 2012 the year for claims bills. A number of claims measures passed this session including a $2.4-million claims bill for the parents of Rachel Hoffman, a Tallahassee informant who died in a botched undercover drug sting several years ago.

Representative John Patrick Julien is the sponsor of the Hoffman Claims bill.

“Either sign it or don’t sign it, and let it become law as opposed to vetoing it.”

The North Miami Beach Democrat says the Governor could sign the claims bill into law, so Irving Hoffman and Marjorie Weiss, Hoffman’s parents, can be compensated for the loss of their daughter.

Scott could veto the measure, but Julien says there’s also a third option:

“The Governor could just decide that ‘You know what? This is not that important of an issue. I’m not trying to make any statements. I’ll just let it become law without my signature.’ What that means is they [the parents] would still get the $2.4 million that that claims bill would award to them. The only thing is they would get the money without his signature.”

Scott already signed a claims bill for William Dillon, the man who spent 27 years behind bars for a murder he did not commit. Dillon received $1.35-million for his wrongful incarceration.

But, Scott now has 10 more claims bills on his desk. And, those bills, including the Rachel Hoffman claims bill, deal with injury or death. Scott says he’s trying to figure out how to proceed.

“It’s like the first time you do clemency. You’re trying to think ‘what is your standard?’ Because no one says this is the standard you’re supposed to use. I think it’s fair that people should expect you to be as consistent as you can. So, I’m trying to figure out what should the standard be.”

Scott says during a recent staff meeting, he did talk about the Rachel Hoffman Claims bill, and read about what happened to the murdered Tallahassee informant. He says it’s difficult to make these types of decisions because each victim has a heart-wrenching story, like 14-year-old Aaron Edwards.

He’s a teenager with cerebral palsy, who’s unable to walk, talk, or use his limbs. He’s supposed to receive $15-million dollars for the negligence of Lee Memorial Health System during his birth.

The Governor met with Edwards and his mother during the last week of session:

“I gave him a tour of the office and I got a picture of him at the Governor’s desk and stuff like that. So, that’s always fun for someone like that. And, what a nice young man, his mom was also nice.”

The Governor would not confirm or deny what he intends to do with each claims bill.

Without the passage of a claims bill, the most the state or city can compensate the victims is $200 thousand. Scott has until March 31st to sign most of the bills into law.