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Claim bills emerge for 2019 Session

A handcuffed man shot twice after being put into the back of a patrol car in Pinellas County and a bicyclist hit by a school bus in Miami-Dade County are among the subjects of “claim” bills filed Wednesday in the state Senate.

The bills are the first to be filed for the 2019 legislative session, which begins March 5.

As of 5 p.m., senators had filed at least 16 bills, seeking more than $28.9 million, for incidents in which state or local government agencies played a role in people dying or getting harmed, according to measures posted on the Senate website.

A legal concept known as “sovereign immunity” typically shields agencies from paying large amounts in lawsuits. But claim bills, if passed, direct agencies to pay more than sovereign-immunity caps, which are often $200,000 or $300,000.

Lawmakers approved eight claim bills during the 2018 session, including measures that paid $360,000 to the parents of Palm Beach County middle school student Jean Pierre Kamel who reported being bullied before being fatally shot by another student in 1997; $500,000 to Christopher Cannon, a motorcyclist who suffered extensive injuries in 2015 when hit by a Tallahassee “Dial-A-Ride” bus; and $5 million to a motorcyclist, Ramiro Companioni Jr., hit by a Tampa water-department pickup truck in 1996.

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Some of the bills filed Wednesday have previously been introduced in the Capitol only to struggle through the legislative process.

For example, Sen. David Simmons, an Altamonte Springs Republicans, has reintroduced legislation (SB 24) that seeks $1.45 million for the family of Eric Scott Tenner.

Tenner, 45, died after being hit on his bicycle by a Miami-Dade County school bus in 2014. The bill said the bus driver “breached his duty to use reasonable care when his bus struck Mr. Tenner from behind.”

Earlier this year, the House voted 111-4 to support a measure for Tenner, but the proposal failed to get through the Senate committee process.

Another proposal that has failed repeatedly seeks $1.9 million for Barney Brown.

Brown had a 1970 conviction of rape and robbery vacated by a circuit judge in 2008. Brown had been convicted despite an earlier acquittal of the same charges in juvenile court.

The bill (SB 26), filed by Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, said “significant doubt existed as to (Brown’s) guilt.”

Democratic Sen. Darryl Rouson, of St. Petersburg, has filed a bill (SB 22) requesting $750,000 for Dylan Tompkins-Holmes.

The bill said that Tompkins-Holmes was being arrested for obstruction of justice in 2015 when, after being searched, handcuffed and put in the back of a Pinellas County Sheriff’s patrol car, he was shot twice.

Tompkins-Holmes had been the passenger in a car driven by his girlfriend.

The bill said the car was pulled over for a welfare check. News reports indicate the woman was stopped on suspicion of drunken driving and that Tompkins-Holmes told her not to comply with sobriety tests.

In May, fired Pinellas sheriff’s deputy Timothy Virden pleaded guilty to attempted manslaughter and was given a sentence of three years of probation.

While the sheriff’s office settled with Tompkins-Holmes, it did not admit fault.

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

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