Money to bury the dead from Dozier reform school advances
Families of previously unidentified children who were buried and later exhumed at a state-run reform school in North Florida would get money to pay for burial costs under a pair of bills that gathered steam on Tuesday.
Under legislation that easily passed a pair of early committees, the next of kin of children found in unmarked graves at the Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys outside Marianna would be entitled to up to $7,500 each for funerals, reinterment and grave marker expenses.
But missing from Tuesday's discussion is what, if any, compensation might ultimately go to the men who endured atrocious beatings at the school. Senate Majority Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, said "perhaps" that will be discussed in the future, but her bill is not about making reparations to those who were harmed at the school yet. She said her goal was to take a first step in closing a sad chapter of Florida's history.
Besides money for a burials, the legislation would start the process of creating a memorial to the victims of the school, which is about 60 miles west of Tallahassee.
"I want something more than a marker," Joyner said after her bill passed the Senate Government Oversight and Accountability Committee without objection.
An identical bill, sponsored by Rep. Ed Narain, D-Tampa, passed through the House Government Operations subcommittee unanimously.
The bills both set aside $500,000 to cover the costs of the burials and set up the memorial task force.
Joyner said she envisions the memorial would list out the names of the victims, many whose remains have remained in unmarked graves for decades. She said where it should be and what it should look like would be handled by a task force.
Last week, University of South Florida antropologists submitted a report to Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet, that showed a total of 51 sets of human remains were found on the school's campus - 20 more than the state previously had expected to find. USF researchers said their 3 year project to identify remains, ended with seven positive DNA matches and 14 presumptive identifications.
The report showed that most of the deaths that occurred were because of illness, but others were more mysterious involving shootings, drowings and beatings.
The state still has not identified the next of kin for many of the victims. In the pair of bills that passed Tuesday, the legislation directs the Florida Department of State to "identify and locate" families of the exhumed children by July 1, 2017, if the bill becomes law.
The legislation still has a long way to go in both the House and the Senate. The bills each have two more committees to get through before the full House and Senate would get a chance to weigh in on the issue.
"At the end of the day, these boys were placed in the hands of the state and they deserve better than unmarked graves," Narain said.
Since 2008, men who had been sent to the campus as children, have detailed horrific beatings and killings they witnessed. Those who have come forward have been dubbed "The White House Boys," referring to an infamous detention building where beatings occured.