The Florida Legislature has passed a number of claims bill, sending them onto the Governor. But, some lawmakers are upset one claims bill to compensate a surviving child of abuse did not survive the legislative process.
Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) is carrying the Senate claims bill to further compensate Victor Barahona. She says he and his twin sister Nubia were abused by their former adoptive parents. Victor lived. Nubia did not.
“These children endured sexual abuse, mental abuse, physical abuse,” said Flores. “They were forced to eat cockroaches. They were forced to eat feces. These are just unspeakable things, and finally on the last day of her life, Nubia was found in the car of what was at the time her stepparent and she was dead. And, her twin brother was still in the car. They found him covered in chemicals. And, one can only imagine that they knew that his fate would be the same.”
Flores says these kids were in the care of the state, which ignored the red flags.
“And, the Department, time and time again, ignored calls from concerned neighbors, who heard the screams of the children from the beatings…concerned teachers, who repeated for some years, for days, the children wouldn’t go to school and when they would go to school, they would be picked up early, and when they would go to school, that they were hungry, that they would hoard their food, that they wouldn’t be bathed for days,” she added.
So, Flores says her claims bill is the least the state can do.
“So, this is a settled claims bill in the amount of $3.75 million,” she continued. “It’s against the Department of Children and Families. And, while Nubia Barahona died, her brother luckily is still alive. There’s nothing that the state could ever do to give him back his sister, to give him back the dignity of years that he lost, but this is something small that we could do.”
The Department of Children and Families already paid $1.25 million to Victor for his and his sister’s mistreatment. According to state law, a claims bill is needed to pay the rest of the $5 million settlement.
Last month, Flores’ bill unanimously passed its first two committees.
Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah) chairs the Senate Budget panel that looks at health issues, the bill’s second stop. He says it’s an important bill.
“We’ve heard this, and it’s long overdue,” Garcia said, at the time.
But, the bill never came up for a vote in its last committee. Flores says it stalled because the House never took up the measure.
“The House never heard the bill at all, and I think that’s what’s caused the issue to not come up for a final vote in the Senate because the House never even gave this bill one hearing, which I think is incredibly disappointing,” she said.
Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood) also called it disappointing. For the past several years, she’s chaired the Senate committee that looks at children’s issues. Sobel also was in charge of a new law overhauling DCF, spurred by the Barahona tragedy as well as other child abuse-related deaths.
Flores had a similar bill in 2014 for Victor, but it was recommended not to move forward with compensation because it could affect other cases against the former adoptive parents.
At the time, Sobel expressed outrage, and she says it’s still unfortunate lawmakers didn’t do anything this year.
“I’m very disappointed,” she said. “Other claims bills came up. The surviving brother is in need of lots of services, lots of help, and we should have taken care of it. We should have taken care of this issue.”
Still, Flores says she will be back next year.
“It’s an issue that I’m going to continue to fight for and when I’m back here next year, I’ll fight for this issue, and I think that next year, we’ll have both a Senate President and a [House] Speaker, who will be a lot more open and willing to deal with claims bill on average and in general,” said Flores. “But, this one is the worst. It’s the most horrifying of all, and it’s incredibly disappointing that we couldn’t get something done this year. And, so we’ll just have to come back and fight it again next year.”
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