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Dozier School bill moves to House

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House members on Monday began looking at a bill to provide funds for a “proper burial” for those who died at a shuttered, but still notorious, boys’ reform school in the Florida Panhandle.

The bill (SB 708) also authorizes the Department of State to “preserve historical resources, records, archives, and artifacts” related to the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys.

But the House sponsor, Democrat Ed Narain of Tampa, made clear that the measure was not intended as a predicate for a “claim bill” for survivors of the school, located in Marianna, about 65 miles west of the capital. It closed in 2011.

Florida law limits local governments to paying no more than $200,000 per person in damages unless lawmakers pass a claim bill, also known as a relief act, for extra money.

Former students have said they were physically and sexually abused at the school, first opened in 1900, with a building called the “White House” particularly known for floggings and other beatings.

University of South Florida researchers exhumed the remains of dozens of bodies on the grounds.

The bill would provide up to $7,500 toward funeral and burial expenses for each set of remains.

State Rep. John Tobia, a Melbourne Beach Republican, offered an amendment to lower that amount to $2,000, saying that $7,500 would be a “windfall” to families of Dozier victims.

After a series of increasingly hostile questions from Democrats, Tobia withdrew the amendment. The bill was rolled over to third reading.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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