About a week after friends and family of a former college football player advocated on behalf of their loved one’s claims bill, it passed its first committee hearing in the Senate.
Devard Darling says he remembers how he and his brother, Devaughn, always wanted to go to Florida State University to play football.
“We committed to this place before our senior season in high school because this is where we wanted to be,” said Devard, last week. “And, on February 26, 2001, it was the worst day of my life losing my identical twin brother. And, Devaughn is buried in a Florida State uniform out in Houston, Texas right now because we love this place so much.”
15 years ago, Devaughn Darling collapsed and died during a grueling pre-season football drill. Since his death, FSU has since changed the way it conducts those drills.
The Darling Family reached an agreement with FSU to receive $2 million. Under state law, the university can only pay $200,000, and give the rest through what’s called a claims bill.
But, in the years the claims bill has been filed, it’s either never had a hearing in the House or Senate, or has died in the committee process. And, Devard and his family have had to talk to lawmakers year after year.
“Nothing can ever bring Devaughn back,” he added. “No amount of money. $1.8 million isn’t worth Devaughn’s life. But, it’s just the closure that we’re looking for. We have to relive this every year, and we just want to be at peace and we just beg and ask for the legislators to find it in their heart to have a heart and remember that it’s not just a claims bill, there’s a life behind that claims bill.”
Joined by family and friends—which included former teammates—Devard spoke at a press conference to help get the bill heard, earlier this month.
Rep. Mia Jones (D-Jacksonville) was also there. She’s carrying the House version of the claims bill, which has never really had a hearing. Still, she says she too has been lobbying to get the bill heard in her chamber. And, Jones adds she knows it hasn’t been easy for the friends and family of Devaughn Darling as well.
“And, in each one of those meetings, they recognize and share their story and the story that this family has had to endure over the past 15 years since his death and 12 years since the first claims bill was filed with the Senate and with the Florida House,” said Jones.
Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa), the bill’s Senate sponsor, had similar comments.
“You know, this bill has been lingering 12 years in this legislature,” she said. “Senator Al Lawson has carried it for five years, and I’ve carried it for seven years, and it is time. I want to believe that Senator Miguel Diaz de la Portilla will do the right thing, the just thing, and hear this bill.”
Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla (R-Miami) is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, the bill’s first committee stop. And, a week after Joyner made her earlier remarks, her bill was heard in his committee.
“Senator Joyner, you are recognized to explain your bill,” said Diaz de la Portilla, during Tuesday's hearing.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman,” Joyner replied. “This is an unopposed claims bill for $1.8 million. It’s based on a final judgment, supported by settlement agreement between the Darlings and the Board of Trustees of Florida State University as compensation for the death of Devaughn Darling, which occurred during a pre-season football drill in 2001.”
And, the Senate measure passed the committee, and has two more stops before heading to the floor.
A similar claims bill for Devaughn Darling also passed last year during its first stop in the Senate Judiciary Committee, but it died in the committee process. Meanwhile, the House version has still not had a hearing.
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