Eugenics Compensation Absent From State Budget
North Carolina House and Senate leaders have reached an agreement on the budget, and they are ready to present it to lawmakers for a vote. But it includes no compensation for eugenics victims, even though a governor's panel agreed it was long overdue. One outspoken victim has decided to file a class action lawsuit against the state. More on that in a minute. But first, here are reactions from the House and Senate leaders involved. The House included a little over $10 million in next year's budget to compensate living eugenics victims at $50,000 a piece. But all compensation was stripped out of the $20.2 billion budget deal reached by Senate and House leaders. Senate president Phil Berger was vague in explaining why. "There was no ability to develop consensus on one particular path forward in reference to eugenics," he says. "We just were not able to see that there was support in the Senate to see that the proposal goes forward." Last week, Berger's spokesman complained that Democrats had tried to tie the money to tax hikes and spending increases in a budget amendment. But it was Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis who had pushed hard to compensate eugenics victims. At the budget press conference yesterday, he was disappointed that senators didn't support the compensation. "I said that if eugenics didn't occur, it would be a personal failure. And at this point it is, and it's something I'll continue to work on," says Tillis. Both chambers will vote on the budget later this week. If passed, it will move on to the governor for consideration. As we mentioned earlier, one victim of North Carolina's eugenics program says she plans to file a class action lawsuit against the state. Elaine Riddick was 14 years old in Perquimans County in Northeastern North Carolina when she was sterilized in 1968. Riddick has been one of the most outspoken victims of the program. She says she's now ready to take her fight to court. "It's not something that you're just going to lay down and take," she says. "First of all, I'm not feeble-minded. I know what I have to do. I gave them the chance to justify what they wronged, and, they didn't want to take the opportunity to do anything about it, so now it's up to me to let them know who I really am, that I do not pay what they took from me. They can't give it back. I'm not going to allow them to do this to me a third time." Riddick says an attorney has been working on the lawsuit. Now that lawmakers have done nothing, Riddick says a suit will be filed shortly. "The reason why I waited this long was to see what they were going to do for the other victims," she says. "It was not about me. This class action is not really about me. I'm going to get mine anyways. It's the other victims I'm concerned about. Now they have been messed over. I don't' know how they're feeling or what they're thinking right now. That's the point. We have been victims all of our life. And then to turn around and be victims again, are you kidding me?" The joint budget agreement also strips funding for the North Carolina Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation. The group is tasked with verifying eugenics victims. The Foundation announced today it has suspended that work. So far, 161 victims have been verified. North Carolina sterilized about 7,600 people between 1933 and 1974. It's estimated that up to 2,000 victims are still alive.