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I-35 bridge bill conferred

Published (3/28/2008)
By Brian Hogenson
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Survivors of the Interstate 35W bridge collapse are expected to get some kind of state compensation, but how much is yet to be decided.

A conference committee charged with creating a viable bill out of legislation passed by the House and Senate met for the first time March 26. It is expected to reconvene March 28.

The House passed HF2553, sponsored by Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley), 120-10 on Feb. 28. SF2824, sponsored by Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park), was passed 57-0 by the Senate March 17.

While the bills essentially have the same goal, there are two significant differences. A compensation fund of nearly $40 million is established in the House bill, while the amount in the Senate bill is $26.5 million. Unlike the House bill, the Senate bill leaves the $400,000 state liability cap in place.

“The bill in the House, from my point of view, aims to be fair, aims to be administratively simple and it aims to be mindful of the state’s legal and fiscal interests,” Winkler said.

Latz said the legislative steps taken were unprecedented in response to a state-related potential tort claim, and that no matter what happens as a result of the conference committee a significant policy precedent and potentially legal precedent will be set.

“We’ve never had an event which is arguably related directly to human cause,” Latz said. “People built the bridge and somewhere along the line people either failed, or failed to act, or took improper actions that resulted in the bridge collapsing.”

The committee heard testimony from three victims of the bridge collapse.

Brad Coulter, who was injured along with his wife and two daughters after their vehicle fell 65 feet from the bridge, and Jennifer Holmes, whose husband was killed by the collapse, urged the committee to remove the liability cap. Coulter said his wife alone will face more than $1 million in medical bills related to the catastrophe.

Linda Paul, who suffered injuries to her face and back along with suffering traumatic brain injury, differs from most bridge survivors as she supports the Senate legislation.

“As much as the House bill is my first choice, I believe Sen. Latz’s bill is the more appropriate response in the world in which we currently exist,” Paul said, noting the economic downturn the state faces.

The Interstate I-35W bridge over the Mississippi River collapsed on Aug. 1, 2007, killing 13 people and injuring 85 others.

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