They were the first bills heard on the Senate floor back when the 2012 Session kicked off on Jan. 10, but measures that would pay a South Florida man injured by a speeding cop and a Brevard County man wrongfully jailed for 27 years haven't made a peep in the House.
Curious about the delay, House Democrats have sent a letter to speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park and Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando, urging them to set the claims bill for committee hearings as soon as possible.
House minority leader Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West, penned the letter on Monday, urging House leadership to move on the bills, which would allow Eric Brody, of Sunrise, to collect a $10.8 million settlement and William Dillon, of Brevard County, to collect $1.35 million.
"As President Haridopolos has repeatedly stated: The fate of these important pieces of legislation rest in the hands of House Republican leaders," Saunders wrote. "I encourage your urgent consideration of this request."
Brody was a college-bound senior in high school and on the way home from his part-time job when a speeding Broward County deputy slammed into his car, a 1982 AMC Concord, 14 years ago. The speed limit was 45 miles per hour and the deputy was driving at least 70. Now 32, Brody is wheelchair-bound and continues to suffer from severe injuries.
In 2005, a Broward jury found that the cop who crashed into Brody was negligent and awarded Brody's family $30.9 million in costs and damages. But to collect more than $200,000 from a government entity requires approval from the State Legislature, and lawmakers have not been able to reach a consensus for several years.
Dillon was imprisoned for 27 years for a murder that DNA evidence later proved he did not commit.
Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, has stated that passing the claims bills is one of his priorities this year, after the measures died on the cutting floor of the House in the chaotic final hours of the 2011 session.
He stood by that claim last month when he brought the bills, SB 4 and SB 2, up for a vote on the first day of this year's session. But things have played out differently in the House, where the measures have gained no traction, five weeks into the 9-week session.
Here's the letter from Saunders:
February 13, 2012
Representative Eric Eisnaugle
Chairman, House Civil Justice Subcommittee
Florida House of Representatives
417 House Office Building
402 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, Florida 32399
Dear Representative Eisnaugle,
On behalf of members of the Florida House Democratic Caucus, I write to encourage you to set a committee hearing for two very important claims bills that have won overwhelming approval by the Florida Senate on the first day of the 2012 legislative session.
The bills, which have the backing of Senate President Mike Haridopolos, are brought to the Legislature on behalf of William Dillon, a wrongfully convicted citizen, and Eric Brody, who will spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair as the result of police negligence.
Senate Bill 4 is a relief measure for Mr. Brody, who was injured in a 1998 crash with a Broward Sheriff’s deputy. Senate Bill 2 is a relief bill for Mr. Dillon, who was wrongfully convicted of a 1981 murder and served almost 27 years in prison for a crime he did not commit and for which he has been formally exonerated. Passage of the bill is needed because Mr. Dillon pleaded guilty to a nonviolent felony when he was 19 years old, making him ineligible for compensation under the state law governing wrongful convictions.
As you may recall, similar claims bills for Mr. Dillon and Mr. Brody were considered during the 2011 legislative session but died in the chaotic closing hours. As President Haridopolos has repeatedly stated: The fate of these important pieces of legislation rest in the hands of House Republican leaders.
I encourage your urgent consideration of this request.
Leader, Florida House Democratic Caucus