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First Bills Filed Of The 2013 Fl Legislative Session: 19 Claims Bills

The first bills of the 2013 Florida Legislative Session have been filed in the Senate. They are 19 claims bills, and  they total more than 36-million dollars.

“That’s a lot of money,” remarked Senate President Don Gaetz.

Gaetz made that comment when he heard the amount of compensation Senators are asking for on behalf of victims due to wrongful convictions, deaths, and injuries.

They’re called claims bills, and 19 were filed Wednesday, becoming the first of the bills filed for the upcoming Legislative Session, totaling at least 36-million dollars. That total excludes three that don’t include a specific amount at this time.

Democratic Senator Bill Montford of Tallahassee filed three out of the 19 claims bills, the most out of any Senator. He also filed a claims bill with the second largest amount of money at about 8.6-million dollars for Jennifer Wohlgemuth, who, after a crash with a law enforcement officer, has severe medical issues and needs constant supervision 24 hours a day.

“The case was a 21-year-old young lady who was driving a vehicle and approached the intersection, and a deputy from Pasco County hit her in an automobile crash,” said Montford.

The Pasco County Deputy who hit Wohlgemuth was chasing a suspect at the time, but he did not have his lights or sirens on. Montford says each victim that he filed a claims bill for deserves to get what is owed to them, especially since all sides agreed.

Those are the same thoughts of Senator Arthenia Joyner. The Tampa Democrat filed only one bill, and out of the 19 bills, hers has the third largest amount in claims at 1.8-million dollars. She says it’s the second time she’s filed the bill, but she feels it’s worth it to compensate the family of Devaughn Darling. He died while he was engaged in a football pre-season training on the Florida State University campus.

Joyner says she just hopes Senator Gaetz, who generally votes against claims bills, sees the merit of her proposal and puts it on the Senate’s agenda.

“Usually, the President determines which claims bill will be heard. So, the first hurdle is convincing Senator Gaetz that it’s worthy having an opportunity to be heard," said Joyner. "So, I’m going to prevail on him to and to ask him to give these parents an opportunity to at least get the matter before a committee.”

Meanwhile, Senator Gaetz says the claims bill process is flawed and something that needs to be changed.

“I certainly hope we move forward in the next 3 or four years with new Senators, I think we’ll at least have 15 new Senators out of 40, that there might be some consideration to bringing order out of chaos, having a claims bill process that is simpler and fairer, and doesn’t depend so much on lobbying or on emotion,” said Gaetz.

In his six years as Senator, Gaetz has only voted in favor of one claims bill: a 2012 measure for William Dillon, who was wrongfully jailed for 27 years. He was awarded 1.35 million dollars.

The largest claims bill that is expected to come across Gaetz desk is a 17.8 million dollar request for a chef who is permanently injured due to a crash with a city of Tampa water truck.

Sascha Cordner has more than ten years of public radio experience. It includes working at NPR member station WUFT-FM in Gainesville for several years. She's worked in both radio and TV, serving in various capacities as a reporter, producer and anchor. She's also a graduate of the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in telecommunications. She is the recipient of 15 awards from the Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), and Edward R. Murrow. Her award-winning stories include her coverage on the infamous “Dozier School for Boys” and a feature titled "Male Breast Cancer: Lost in the Sea of Pink." Currently, Sascha serves as the host and producer of local and state news content for the afternoon news program "All Things Considered" at WFSU. Sascha primarily covers criminal justice and social services issues. When she's not reporting, Sascha likes catching up on her favorite TV shows, singing and reading. Follow Sascha Cordner on Twitter:@SaschaCordner.