Indiana lawmakers ponder more for state fair victims

Indiana lawmakers could provide an additional $4 million for victims of last summer's stage collapse at the state fair.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Jeff Espich, R-Uniondale, said Monday he plans to introduce legislation for fair victims by the end of the week or early next week.

Espich has not settled on a final amount, but said $4.2 million would pay for medical costs not already covered by the $5 million already paid out by the state and give each family of those who died an additional $400,000. The additional money would help make victims and their families "financially whole" again, he said, but would not be enough to compensate for every loss.

"There is no right or wrong answer on these things," Espich said. He plans on adding the money to a broader spending bill that could include funding for full-day kindergarten and restore some cuts in education spending.

Gov. Mitch Daniels included a one-time payout for fair victims in his 2012 legislative agenda but said he wants to hear from lawmakers before deciding on a specific amount.

Seven people died and 58 others were injured in August when stage rigging collapsed at the fair before a scheduled performance by the country duo Sugarland. International engineering firm Thornton Tomasetti is conducting an investigation of the rigging and national emergency planning advisers Witt Associates are reviewing the state's emergency plans and its response to the collapse.

Attorney General Greg Zoeller and Kenneth Feinberg, a victims' claims expert who crafted formulas for compensating victims of tragedies ranging from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to the Virginia Tech shootings, developed a plan that covered two-thirds of medical costs for most of the people who survived the collapse. It also paid out at least $300,000 to each of the families of the deceased.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Luke Kenley, R-Noblesville, said he has not had a chance to review any state fair proposals yet, but Espich's idea sounds logical.

Rep. Ed DeLaney, D-Indianapolis, introduced legislation to raise the state's total liability to $22 million and increase the individual maximum payout to $1.3 million. He came up with the amount using cost-of-living adjustments since the $5 million cap was set in 1974. He has not been able to get a hearing for his legislation yet.

DeLaney said the response he has received from constituents supporting his measure is: "'Why don't we just fess up and pay a fair amount?'"

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