Families of more than 50 children found in unmarked graves at a former state-run reform school in North Florida will get up to $7,500 each to pay for burial costs under a bill Gov. Rick Scott signed into law this morning.
In addition, the new law requires the state to create a task force that will begin creating a memorial to acknowledge what happened at the now shuttered Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.
"It's a very good first step to address something that never should have happened," said former Gov. Bob Martinez, a leading advocate for those who have told tales of horror after being sent to the reform school over decades.
Those who were sent to the school have for years told of beatings and abuse that went on for decades at the school. In 2012, University of South Florida researches began investigating burial grounds on the reform school's campus where pipe crosses marked what was said to be the final resting place of 31 boys. But researchers found 55 graves, many in the woods outside the marked cemetery. In a report to the Florida Cabinet, USF researches showed that most of the deaths that occurred were because of illness, but others involved shootings, drownings and beatings.
Martinez said the fact that the legislature funded the USF research, is paying for proper reburials, and ready to create a memorial shows that the state is trying to do the right thing.
State Rep. Ed Narain, D-Tampa, said ultimately the state needs to do more to help those who survived the abuse there. He and Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, lead the effort to get the funding for the reburials this year.
"I think its a great thing for the victims' families," Narain said of Scott signing his bill into law.
The Dozier bill was one of 14 Scott signed into law. Here is the full list of bills:
SB 124 - Public-Private Partnerships – This bill establishes a uniform framework for the establishment of public-private partnerships.
SB 126 - Public Records and Public Meetings – This bill creates a public records and public meetings exemption for unsolicited proposals for public-private partnership projects.
SB 194- Redevelopment Trust Fund – This bill exempts hospital districts from contributing to community redevelopment agencies created on or after July 1, 2016.
SB 436 - The Crime of Making Threats of Terror or Violence – This bill creates penalties for specified threats of violence.
SB 514 - Supervisor of Elections Salaries – This bill revises the local formula for the salaries of the Florida Supervisors of Elections.
SB 580 - Reimbursement to Health Access Settings for Dental Hygiene Services for Children – This bill clarifies that dental hygienists may receive Medicaid reimbursement for providing children's dental services.
SB 592 - Public Records – This bill exempts from public records the personal identification information of emergency medical technicians, paramedics, and Department of Financial Services’ investigative personnel.
SB 626 - Consumer Credit – This bill authorizes the Office of Financial Regulation to take action against a person who violates the Military Lending Act.
SB 628 - Fees for Records – This bill allows the Agency for Persons with Disabilities to pay a reduced fee for background screenings from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
SB 708 - The Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys – This bill authorizes the Department of State to reimburse families up to $7,500 in funeral expenses for remains recovered from the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.
SB 752 - Public Records – This bill creates a public records exemption for certain personal identifying information of a current or former employee of an agency’s office of inspector general or internal audit department.
SB 754 - Public Records – This bill creates a public records exemption for certain civil and criminal investigative information held by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
SB 772 - Regulated Service Providers – This bill reduces fees and modifies provisions in several areas regulated by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.
SB 908 - Organization of the Department of Financial Services – This bill revises provisions relating to the organization of the Department of Financial Services.