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DeSantis signs compensation bill for survivors of Dozier boys school

Darryl Rouson speaking into a microphone during the special session
Phil Sears
/
AP
Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat who was the Senate sponsor of the bill, accompanied several survivors when DeSantis signed the bill Friday morning.

The program will compensate people who were at Dozier or the Okeechobee reform school between 1940 and 1975 and “who were subjected to mental, physical or sexual abuse perpetrated by school personnel.”

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday signed a bill that will steer $20 million to survivors of abuse at the notorious Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in Marianna and another state reform school.

The bill (HB 21), approved by the Legislature this spring, will establish the “Dozier School for Boys and Okeechobee School Victim Compensation Program.”

The program will compensate people who were at Dozier or the Okeechobee reform school between 1940 and 1975 and “who were subjected to mental, physical or sexual abuse perpetrated by school personnel.”

The plan requires Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office to set up a process to “accept, review, and approve or deny applications for the payment of compensation.”

Applicants must provide “reasonable proof” — including sworn statements — that they were at the schools during the period and were victims of abuse.

For at least a decade, former Dozier students, known as the “White House Boys,” traveled to the Capitol and shared intimate details of the abuse they suffered as children.

The Dozier school was shuttered in 2011 after 111 years of operation. Researchers have found remains of dozens of students buried at the site, and other former students have never been located.

Lawmakers in 2017 provided $1.2 million to cover the costs of reburials and memorials for victims. Also that year, the Legislature issued an apology to victims. But legislative efforts to compensate the men failed until this year.

Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat who was the Senate sponsor of the bill, accompanied several survivors when DeSantis signed the bill Friday morning.

In a phone interview with The News Service of Florida, Rouson thanked Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, and House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, for supporting the measure.

“I have personally fought for seven years, since 2017, to get this done. These men who were once boys and witnessed and suffered the atrocities have been coming here for more than a decade to tell their story, to give testimony, and while this will not fully compensate them for the injuries they suffered, it will go a long way towards giving them justice,” Rouson said.

About 300 to 400 former students of the schools who are still alive could be eligible for the compensation, according to Troy Rafferty, an attorney with the Levin, Papantonio, Rafferty firm who represents the men.