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Lawmakers Advance Bill To Compensate NC Eugenics Victims

Republican leaders in the North Carolina House filed a bill Wednesday that would make this the first state to financially compensate victims of its forced sterilization program. Efforts to compensate victims of North Carolina's Eugenics Board have been derailed many times because of tight budgets or partisan politics, but Republican House Speaker Thom Tillis says his bill is the real deal. A big reason he says that, is because it's not just his bill - it's co-sponsored by the Republican Majority Leader and two prominent House Democrats with full endorsement from Democratic Governor Bev Perdue. "I think this is an example of where you ought to check your partisan politics at the door and do good things - or do the right things - when you have the opportunity to do that," says Tillis. "I think this bill's one of the best examples of that in this legislative session." The bill follows the recommendation of a Governor's task force to pay living victims $50,000. The money would be tax-exempt and not count against a person's eligibility for state or federal assistance programs like Medicaid or food stamps. The measure appropriates $10 million for the compensation. That's not nearly enough to compensate the 2,000 or so sterilization victims estimated to still be alive, but Tillis notes only 132 victims have come forward and been verified. Of those, 118 are still living. Charmaine Fuller Cooper thinks that number will grow if lawmakers approve the compensation. She directs the N.C. Justice for Victims of Sterilization Foundation. "It will allow people to finally say, 'Wow, this has really happened' and to really make difficult decisions as to whether or not they want to come forward," says Fuller Cooper. "For some people that means they may need to begin a conversation with their loved ones about what may have happened, but I do believe that once something is passed by the legislature, that more victims will come forward." More than 7,600 men, women and children were sterilized by the North Carolina eugenics program over several decades ending in the mid-70s. More than half of states had such programs, but only a handful has formally apologized. None has paid compensation to eugenics victims. The bill to make North Carolina the first will be heard by the House Judiciary Committee next Tuesday afternoon.