A measure to compensate victims of North Carolina's forced sterilization program has been approved by the State House. It would pay $50,000 to each living victim and carries an initial price tag of $10 million.
The overwhelming sentiment on the compensation bill was summed up by Democratic Representative Patsy Keever. "We can't make this right, we know that," said Keever during debate on the House floor yesterday. "But we can say we're sorry and put our money where our mouth is. I urge you to vote for this."
The majority of state representatives - both Republicans and Democrats - did. The final tally was 86 to 31 in support of the measure. HB 947 puts just over $10 million in next year's budget for eugenics victims compensation.
As many as 2,000 victims may still be alive, but so far, fewer than 200 have come forward. Opponents of the measure gave a variety of reasons for their vote during Tuesday's debate. Republican G.L. Pridgen said the state was wrong to forcibly sterilize people, but compensating them from the pockets of today's taxpayers is wrong, too. "We've got eugenics vs. taxpayers," said Pridgen. "We're punishing people for something they had nothing to do with. I don't think that is right." Neither does Republican John Blust: "It's hard for me . . . in a year where we have now for the third or fourth year in a row not given teachers or state employees any raise whatsoever and suddenly we have this pressing reason to use up $10 million."
If Democrats wanted to compensate eugenics victims so badly, added Blust, why didn't they do it when they were in control prior to 2010?
It's true that over the last ten years, similar bills have never made it beyond committee, let alone been approved by the full House. The reason it happened Tuesday has a lot to do with the names listed at the top of the bill. In addition to long-time Democratic champions Larry Womble and Earline Parmon, the two most powerful Republicans in the House signed on as sponsors: Speaker Thom Tillis and Majority Leader Paul Stam.
Tillis took the unusual step of leaving the Speaker's chair to argue in support of the bill from the House floor Tuesday. "Every once in awhile I think you have a chance to make history, and this is one of those chances," said Tillis. He went on to explain how he - as a conservative politician - came to be a chief proponent of compensation for eugenics victims. "As somebody who has sat in this chamber and heard people talk about the wrongness of annexations, the wrongness of other government takings, the wrongness of imminent domain and how bad that is and how we need to correct it and how sometimes we even need to go back and reverse decisions of other elected officials - I look at this and I think it's probably the most egregious example of that," said Tillis.
State senators will now have their chance to consider the bill. If they pass it, North Carolina will become the first state - of more than two dozen that had eugenics laws - to actually compensate victims.