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House passes bill compensating William Dillon for 27 years in prison

In a near-unanimous vote, the House of Representatives approved a claims bill to provide $1.35 million to William Dillon, a Brevard County man who was wrongfully imprisoned for 27 years.

The measure is the first claims bill this year to clear both Chambers, surviving an arduous process that leaves many victims disappointed at the end of every session.

House members briefly held a philosophical debate about claims bills, with a few members stating that they are against a process that allows government to overrule the state’s sovereign immunity provision in some cases, and not others. The Legislature has to approve any claim against a government entity in excess of $200,000.

“I certainly understand the hardship that that incarceration brought to [Dillon’s] life,” said Rep. John Wood, R-Winter Haven “The process we have before us needs to be changed.”

Wood was one of five legislators that voted against the compensation package.

A priority of Senate President Mike Haridolopos, R-Merritt Island, the Dillon claim was the first bill passed by the Senate this year, back on the first day of the Legislative session.

The bill now goes back to the Senate to clear up a few discrepancies between the Senate and the House versions.

The 52-year-old Dillon, who was convicted of the 1981 Brevard County murder of James Dvorak, broke into tears after the vote. He was acquitted in 2005 with help from the Innocence Project. His claims bill died on the cutting-room floor of the House in the final hours of the 2011 session.

Also on Friday, the House Judiciary Committee advanced 15 claims bills for several Floridians who were injured or killed by government employees or entities.