By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - A bill that would compensate three women held captive for nearly a decade in Ariel Castro's home in Cleveland came one step closer to becoming law on Wednesday.
The measure was introduced a month after Michelle Knight, Gina DeJesus, Amanda Berry and a six-year-old daughter Castro fathered with Berry made their way to freedom in May from the home where the women were imprisoned, raped and beaten. It would provide each of the women with $25,000 annually for each year they suffered in Castro's home.
On Wednesday, the bi-partisan House Bill 197 or the Survivors Abduction Act passed its committee vote with three dissenting votes from Republicans on the committee. It will now be considered by the full Ohio House of Representatives.
If the bill becomes law, Knight would get $275,000 for her 11 years of captivity, Berry $250,000 for her 10 years of imprisonment and DeJesus $225,000. The money would come from the Ohio Court of Claims' crime victims fund.
In addition, the law would require Cleveland State University to provide five years schooling plus room and board, all free of charge. They would also receive Medicaid funds for life at the discretion of the Governor.
Separately, a fund soliciting private donations that was set up after the captives were freed has reached $1.4 million from more than 10,000 donors.
Castro, 53, was found dead in his prison cell one month after he was sentenced to life in prison without parole plus 1,000 years for kidnapping, raping and beating the women.
An autopsy report released last week called his death a suicide but a prison report the same week questioned whether Castro, who was found with his pants and underwear around his ankles, had not accidentally killed himself during an act of auto-erotic asphyxiation.
The bill's co-sponsor Cheryl Grossman, a Republican from Grove City near Columbus, told Reuters that the bill applies only to survivors held for eight years or more.
The Ohio Victims of Crime fund carries a balance of $26 million dollars on average and is funded by OVI reinstatement and court fees and a federal victims compensation program, Grossman said.
Co-sponsor John Barnes Jr., a Democrat from Cleveland, represents a district east of the Castro home and introduced the bill in June.
"I was outraged and thought of what, if anything, can be done to help these women on their long road of recovery," Barnes told Reuters.
Sponsors of the bill hope to rename it the Michelle Knight, Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus Survivors of Abduction Act after it passes both legislative houses.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg, David Bailey and Ken Wills)