Bill giving $17.6M to 20 vicitms of the Lower North Fork Fire could hit roadblock

Legislative session ends Wednesday night

The bill approving $17.6 million in payments to 20 Lower North Fork Fire victims could hit a road block on Tuesday morning.

Representatives in the House Judiciary committee will debate the bill sometime after 9 a.m.

The bill passed through the Senate in two days. It approves an additional $6.2 million in funding, on top of $11.4 million already set aside to pay 20 victims of the Lower North Fork Fire. The $17.6 million covers economic losses not covered by insurance, such as charred landed, burned trees, trees that need to be cut down and replanted. The total also includes interest and economic losses for emotional distress and the deaths of Ann Appel and Sam and Linda Lucas.

Some victims who previously settled with the state without receiving non-economic losses and interest are now lobbying Representatives to amend the bill to allow them another chance at compensation.

In a letter to Representatives, an attorney for four of the victims wrote:

"We sincerely and wholeheartedly support the awards for interest and non-economic losses… We ask only that the legislature consider... to allow claimants (who already settled) to make a claim for non-economic losses and interest..."

For the victims who did not settle, they made an agreement with the state, in May 2013, to go through an independent panel process to determine their losses. The losses determined by the independent panel totaled more than $19 million, with interest included. The independent panel recommendations were supposed to be final and binding.

The victims took their independent panel recommendations to the State Claims Board last month. The State Claims Board recommended $11 million, not including non-economic and interest. State law prohibits the claims board from considering non-economic losses.

The victims went back to court, seeking a judgment for the independent panel recommendations.

On April 25, the judge ordered the independent panel recommendations to be forwarded to the legislature.

On Tuesday morning, the House committee could:

-Approve the $17.6 million payments for the 20 victims

-Approve the $17.6 million payments for the 20 victims and amend the bill to allow claimants who previously settled to have another chance at non-economic losses and interest.

-Reject the bill

If the bill were to be rejected, the victims could wait until the next legislative session and try again, go back to court or approve the $11 million in payments already approved by the State Claims board.

If the bill survives, even if it's amended, it could still pass before the end of the legislative session on Wednesday night.

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