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Dozier restitution bill returns for Florida's upcoming legislative session

SB 482 hopes to help correct "a unique and shameful chapter in the history of the state."

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Editor's Note: The video in the player above is from a 2020 interview.

State Sen. Darryl Rouson (D- St. Petersburg) is once again pushing to put a means of restitution in place for those who suffered horrific abuse at the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna.

SB 482 was filed on Oct. 13 in an effort to help correct "a unique and shameful chapter in the history of the state," according to the bill's text.

A similar bill was put forth by Rouson last legislative session but died in the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Tourism and Economic Development.

The “Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys and Okeechobee School Abuse Victim Certification Act” applies to any living person that suffered physical, mental and sexual abuse at the school between 1940 and 1975 "rather than the guidance and compassion that children in state custody should receive."

The bill would create a way to certify those who claim to have suffered abuse at Dozier for future compensation. According to the bill text, it would take effect upon becoming law.

Dozier was open for more than 100 years in the Florida Panhandle and officially closed in 2011. From 2012 to 2016, the remains of 55 people were found on the former reform school's property. Then in 2019, research crews were alerted to the possibility of an additional 27 anomalies. 

Ground-penetrating radar determined those anomalies were mostly roots from pine trees moved from the area years ago, according to officials.

In the years since, the state has formally apologized to the survivors and families for the abuses and deaths that happened at Dozier. More than 500 former Dozier students have come forward over the years to report physical, sexual and mental abuse at the hands of those who worked there.

The investigation at Dozier closed in 2020 and researchers say it will remain that way unless its team receives credible information to start digging again, like the specific name of a missing person or more proof of potential remains in a particular area.