A North Carolina legislative committee voted almost unanimously Tuesday to approve a bill that would compensate victims of the state’s forced sterilization program with $50,000 each, according to WFAE radio from Charlotte.
More than 50 other North Carolina lawmakers from both parties have agreed to co-sponsor the bill, which needs approval from the finance and appropriations committees before the vote reaches the House floor. If the House passes it, the Senate will vote on the bill.
Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue has already agreed to sign the bill in the likelihood it reaches her, and has already allotted $10 million toward the compensations, WFAE has reported.
The North Carolina Eugenics Board ordered the forced sterilization of about 7,600 people between 1929 and 1974, an estimated 2,000 of which are still living, according to Asheville’s Citizen-Times.
The state is counting on victims to report themselves before the end of 2015. So far, 118 people have qualified for the compensation, the Citizen-Times reports.
The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Larry Womble D-Forsyth, has spent 10 years trying to get the bill passed and cried at Tuesday’s hearing.
“This is not a perfect bill,” Womble said. “But it is a bill that separates North Carolina from the rest of the world. This is a proud day. This is an auspicious time in the history of North Carolina.”
No other state has compensated eugenics victims, although at least 30 other states had similar programs for sterilizing criminals and the mentally ill.
Rep. George Cleveland, R-Onslow, believes that although the eugenics program was “despicable,” North Carolina has already apologized and should not compensate the victims, according to WFAE.
“I personally have a problem with compensation,” Cleveland said. “People today paying for something that happened in the past, I don’t think it’s correct.”
House Majority Leader Paul Stram agreed that North Carolinians cannot change history, but that the state can and should compensate the victims, according to WFAE.
“We can’t fix their bodies, but we can pay compensation and we ought to do it so they can enjoy it before they die,” Stram said.
Rep. Ric Killian, R-Charlotte, believes the courts and not the legislature should handle the compensations, WFAE reports.
“I just simply think it’s the wrong venue for what we’re trying to accomplish, and therefore I will also be voting against this,” Killian said.