'Just trying to be an everyday guy'
Moments earlier Rep. Jack Seiler, D-Fort Lauderdale, had this to say to Alan Crotzer: "I don't ever think we've said we're sorry. What we put you through and what you had to live through, on behalf of the state, we owe you an apology, and I hope at some point you can accept that apology."
Crotzer, 47, and formerly of St. Petersburg, spent 24 years in prison on a rape conviction only to be exonerated by DNA evidence. He has struggled for two years to get compensation and today he moved a step forward when the House Policy and Budget Council voted unanimously to pay him $1.25-million.
"My whole world was upside down when I got out," Crotzer told the lawmakers. "I'm just trying to be an everyday guy. Compensation will get me the education as well as the tools to rebuild my life." (photo Crotzer, center, speaks with Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff. Click here here for short video of his reaction to vote)
The bill now heads to the House floor, where passage is certain. The Senate is also expected to pass the bill.
Less clear is the fate of a related bill that would establish an automatic compensation process for other cases of wrongful incarceration. Bogdanoff is trying to craft a plan with the Senate that would provide up to $50,000 for each year a person spends in prison.
But the legislation would eliminate anyone with a prior felony conviction -- a provision that would have eliminated Crotzer. Democrats offered an amendment to remove that "clean hands" measure but it failed.
Bogdanoff, who has be working on the issue for a few years, showed the frustration of trying to please all sides. "It is unacceptable to some of the senators to have a two page rap sheet and provide compensation," she said, adding that a person could still go through the normal claims bill process.
"If this bill is voted down," she warned, "we've got nothing to work with."
It passed on a party line vote.
The original bill to compensate Crotzer was filed by Rep. Luis Garcia, D-Miami Beach, but today a committee substitute was presented by Bogdanoff. Some Democrats wondered if the GOP was playing politics, perhaps trying to strip Garcia of a legislative victory as he heads toward the November election. Garcia's bill was the first filed in the session.