The "Claims Bill" is up on the House Floor today.
It is the product of the Joint House/Senate Subcommittee on Claims. In theory, this Subcommittee hears and recommends to the legislature whether or not to pay claims that have been brought against the state. In reality, they meet a few times to largely rubber stamp decisions that have already been made by the Attorney General's office, the State Supreme Court, and other parties.
Usually, they are mundane cases like prisoners who have been injured while working in the prison shop. Usually, the damages are not out of line with what you would expect and they are all due to the negligence of somebody, usually a state employee or employees the state has to pay. But thanks to a little provision passed in 2014.
The Imprisonment and Exoneration Remedies Act calls for a damages award of between $50,000 and $100,000 per year spent in prison. It also provides at least $25,000 for each year served on supervised release or as a registered predatory offender.
So if the prosecutor gets it wrong, you pay. Even if the evidence at the time showed the person was guilty. For example in one of the cases, the Toyota Sudden Acceleration case, Toyota actually admitted fault after the fact. Or in another case, the case of a man convicted of killing his baby daughter, it was decided partly due to false testimony.
There is no doubt these were miscarriages of justice. There is no doubt that these are sad stories. But a law which tries to right a wrong for which another, third party, was responsible is not exactly justice to the taxpayer. This law should receive more scrutiny. Now that we've gotten to the claims bill phase, it's too late.
We are pleased to see that Senator David Osmek noticed this problem when the bill was in the subcommittee. Here are his comments.