State Politics

Scott signs Dozier School, BP settlement bills

University of South Florida assistant professor of anthropology Dr. Erin Kimmerle passes open graves at the Boot Hill cemetery at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, Dec. 20, 2013. Researchers from the University of South Florida have removed dozens of sets of human remains.
University of South Florida assistant professor of anthropology Dr. Erin Kimmerle passes open graves at the Boot Hill cemetery at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys, Dec. 20, 2013. Researchers from the University of South Florida have removed dozens of sets of human remains. Tampa Bay Times

A measure that calls for creating a pair of memorials to boys who were abused at a notorious state reform school, and directs the reburial of remains of unidentified victims, was signed into law Friday.

The bill (HB 7115) provides $1.2 million to cover the costs of the reburials and memorials for youngsters who suffered physical and sexual abuse at the now-shuttered Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna. It was among 33 bills signed into law Friday by Gov. Rick Scott.

“Today’s signing, coupled with an official apology led by the House earlier this year, will hopefully bring some closure and healing to all those affected directly or indirectly by the atrocities that occurred at the Arthur Dozier School for Boys,” House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’Lakes, said in a statement.

Also signed were measures (HB 7077 and HB 7079) that will release BP oil-spill settlement money to eight Northwest Florida counties most impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster.

“Our beautiful beaches were devastated by the impacts of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill,” Scott said in a statement. “While the surrounding communities have worked hard to recover, this funding will allow them to make critical local investments and continue our efforts to market the state.”

State Rep. Jay Trumbull, a Panama City Republican who oversaw the issue in the House, said the money “will help our businesses continue to grow and attract visitors from around the world to our beautiful coast.”

The measures allocate $300 million of $400 million received by the state last year to Bay, Escambia, Franklin, Gulf, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa, Wakulla and Walton counties through the nonprofit organization Triumph Gulf Coast.

Kim Wilmes, president and CEO of the regional economic-development organization Florida’s Great Northwest, said the money will allow the region “to begin building that bright new economic future.”

The bill sets minimums for how much each county will receive and expands the Triumph board from five to seven, to provide more representation from less populated counties. The eight counties are also slated to get three-fourths of the remainder of the $2 billion the state is expected to receive for damages associated with the BP disaster, which dumped millions of gallons of oil less than 100 miles off the Florida coast.

Also among the bills signed Friday were 11 measures known as “claim” bills, which typically stem from lawsuits filed against government agencies because people have been injured or killed.

Among the claim bills is a measure (HB 6515) that would provide $1.8 million to the family of Devaughn Darling, a Florida State University football player who died during a training session in 2001.

The Dozier issue drew widespread attention during the legislative session that ended May 8. As lawmakers took action on the bill, they were watched by men who had been sent as children to the school.

The Dozier memorials will be placed at the Capitol complex in Tallahassee and in Jackson County, the site of the reform school.

The legislation also provides for the reburial of unidentified remains from Dozier at a cemetery in Tallahassee. Victims of a 1914 dormitory fire at the reform school would be reburied at the Boot Hill cemetery on the Dozier property.

The remains were uncovered by University of South Florida forensic anthropologists who found 55 graves at the school, which operated from 1900 to 2011. The legislation also directs the state Department of Environmental Protection to investigate the 1,400-acre Dozier site for additional unmarked graves.

The bill names a Florida Department of Law Enforcement forensic training center in Pasco County after Thomas Varnadoe, who died after being sent to Dozier in 1934. His remains were identified and returned to his family during the investigation.

In addition to the legislative directives, the House and Senate passed resolutions that formally apologized for the treatment of the juveniles sent to Dozier and a related facility in Okeechobee.

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