TALLAHASSEE (NSF) – As she debated on the House floor last month, state Rep. Jeanette Nunez said a bill calling for compensation in the death of Andrea Castillo was “personal” for her.READ MORE: Miami ex-Proud Boys leader Henry 'Enrique' Tarrio to stay jailed until Capitol riot trial
Nunez, R-Miami, knew Castillo, who was a passenger in a Jeep Compass that was struck by a speeding Hialeah police officer in 2012. Castillo, a college student on the way to celebrate her recent 21st birthday, died as a result of the crash.
“I went to the hospital and I saw her in that hospital bed. I sat with her mother,” Nunez said. “I went to that funeral, and I can tell you as a parent, and I know everyone in this chamber that has children of their own, can just imagine the nightmare that she (Castillo’s mother) has gone through and continues to go through.”
Gov. Rick Scott on Friday signed a bill (HB 3509) directing the city of Hialeah to pay $455,000 to Castillo’s estate to carry out a settlement in a lawsuit stemming from the death. It was one of four measures —- known as “claim” bills — that Scott approved as part of settlements reached by local governments in cases involving injuries or deaths.
Similar bills are filed each year because Florida’s sovereign-immunity laws place limits on how much government agencies can pay in lawsuits unless the Legislature approves higher amounts. But the bills also have long been a source of debate in the Legislature, with many of the proposals never passing.
In the Castillo case, for example, Hialeah reached a $750,000 settlement with Castillo’s estate and with Marco Barrios, who was driving the Jeep and was Castillo’s boyfriend, a legislative special master’s report said. State law placed a $300,000 limit on how much Hialeah could pay without legislative action. The city has paid $295,000 to the estate and Barrios, with $455,000 remaining to go to the estate, the bill said.
Among the other claim bills signed Friday by Scott was a measure (HB 3515), sponsored by Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, R-Fort Myers, that calls for the Palm Beach County School Board to pay $600,000 and purchase an annuity for a girl, identified by the initials Q.B., who was sexually assaulted on a school bus in 2007.
Another bill (HB 3517), sponsored by Rep. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, directs Orange County to pay $400,000 to the parents of Alex Zaldivar and to Brienna and Remington Campos because of a home-invasion robbery in 2012 that left Zaldivar dead and the other two people injured. A settlement was reached to resolve allegations that Orange County was negligent in monitoring the gunman, who was in a county home-confinement program.READ MORE: Judge gives initial OK to $1B deal in Surfside condo collapse
Also, Scott signed a bill (HB 3525), sponsored by Rep. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, that calls for the city of Miami to pay $550,000 to the parents of Kevin Colindres, an autistic and intellectually disabled 18-year-old man who died in January 2007 after a struggle with police officers.
The House and Senate overwhelmingly passed the bills before the legislative session ended March 11. But the bills faced opposition from a small group of House Republicans, while numerous other claim bills never reached the House or Senate floors.
For instance, family members and former teammates of Devaughn Darling, a Florida State University football player who died while working out in 2001, held a news conference during the session to try to build support for passage of a proposal (SB 16 and HB 3513) that called for paying $1.8 million to his family. But the proposal was approved by only two Senate committees and wasn’t heard in the House.
At least part of the opposition to claim bills stems from concerns about the process for trying to pass them — a process that can include hiring lobbyists.
“It’s just very, very troubling the whole process, and that’s why I have been consistently opposed to it,” House Insurance & Banking Chairman John Wood, R-Winter Haven, said during a floor debate last month.
But even if the process is flawed, supporters of the bills said families should not be penalized if they have suffered losses.
“Those families are doing and working through the process that we have put in place,” Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, said.MORE NEWS: Fort Lauderdale Police: 2 Stabbed, 1 In Custody
The News Service of Florida’s Jim Saunders contributed to this report.