PROCEDURAL TIE-UP IN COMPENSATION BILL MAY LEAVE CLEARED INMATE EMPTY-HANDED
Source: The Miami Herald 05/02/2007
Alan Crotzer, who is seeking state compensation for the 24 years he spent wrongfully imprisoned, is about to go home penniless this week as he searches for a job and a rational explanation from a state Senate that won't take up his cause.
With just four days to go in the two-month lawmaking session, Senate President Ken Pruitt all but forced his counterparts in the House to kill a measure Tuesday that would have given the St. Petersburg man about $1.25 million for his lost years.
''They call themselves Christians but speak with a forked tongue,'' Crotzer said, referring to Pruitt and the Republican leader of the Senate, Dan Webster.
Pruitt said the ''process'' is to blame, as well as a tight state budget of $72 billion -- which nevertheless has about $1 billion in unspent money.
Pruitt noted the Crotzer measure had stalled in a Senate committee -- in part, because of Pruitt's own rules -- and didn't belong on a separate bill to spend $4.8 million to compensate the family of 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson, who died after he was violently subdued by Panama City boot camp guards.
Crotzer said he learned how to ''do time'' in prison, but he still reacted angrily to what's happening in the Senate.
Barring a last-minute change, Crotzer, 46, will have to come back to seek state compensation next year. It would mark the third time the former inmate has sought legislation since he was released last year on the strength of DNA evidence showing he didn't commit two rapes.
Many House members were outraged. And Gov. Charlie Crist said ''justice is crying out'' for compensation of both the Anderson family and Crotzer. Nearly all of the 120 House members approved a measure to compensate Crotzer. Then, on Monday, House members tacked Crotzer's language onto the high-profile Anderson relief bill sought by the governor.
But Pruitt insisted the two bills be separated because he and fellow Republican House Speaker Marco Rubio had agreed ahead of time to approve 14 compensation bills, including a measure sought by Rubio to give $8.5 million to former Fort Lauderdale resident Minouche Noel, who was crippled by botched state-paid surgeries when she was an infant 19 years ago.
BACK AND FORTH
In the waning days of the session, when loads of legislation pour on the floor of both chambers, any friction can kill a bill if it has to bounce back and forth between the two chambers as they agree on identical language. The House members then separated Crotzer from the Anderson bill, which passed with just 10 ''no'' votes and heads to the Senate for final approval. The House changed the bill to limit lawyer and lobbyist fees.
''I'm not going to give an opinion on what's fair and not fair,'' Pruitt said. ``The Senate is not going to be put in a position where we're doing it at the last minute. Nothing good ever happens whenever you're rushed or you work late.''
A separate measure compensating Crotzer never made it out of a Senate criminal justice budget committee, whose chairman said he's waiting for Pruitt to bring it to the floor. The Republican leader, Webster, said he prefers the failed bill because it seeks to set up a court-like process that gives all exonerated inmates a flat amount of money based on the number of years wrongfully spent in prison.
Last year, the Legislature awarded $2 million to Wilton Dedge, who spent less time -- 22 years -- wrongfully imprisoned than Crotzer.
The difference between the two: Dedge had a clean record and is white. Crotzer was convicted after stealing beer as a young man and is black.
BUILDING THE FUTURE?
Rep. Terry Fields, a Democratic black caucus leader from Jacksonville, noted that there's about $1 billion in unspent money in the budget and that the Senate wanted to spend half of it on a massive public-works road-paving binge called ``Building Florida's Future.''
''How can you talk about building Florida's future when you don't right the wrongs of the past?'' Fields asked.