RALEIGH – Prospects for compensating victims of a decades long forced sterilization program dimmed this week when the state Senate defeated a measure that would have inserted $11 million into the budget to pay for the compensation.
A proponent for compensating the victims believes there still is an avenue for getting the money and compensation program approved. However, the leader of the Senate said that he felt like Wednesday’s action by lawmakers made approval more difficult to attain.
For more than four decades, the state operated what is called a eugenics program that involuntarily sterilized an estimated 7,600 North Carolinians who were poor, sick, undereducated, or disabled. That practice stopped in the mid-1970s.
Compensation of $50,000 would be provided to living victims of the sterilization program.
The House has approved a bill setting up the compensation program. It also would set up an office to help victims file their claims. It also placed a line item in the budget to pay for the compensation.
However on Wednesday, the Senate turned down a proposal that would have added $11 million to its budget to pay for the compensation. That proposal was attached to a tax provision that would have limited tax deductions that some small business owners could take.
“I think the maneuver they pulled [Wednesday] made it that much difficult to get that through,” said Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham.
The Senate has a longstanding rule that bans the contents of a defeated bill or amendment from coming up again for the remainder of the session unless two-thirds of the senators present and voting agree to resurrect it.
Sen. Floyd McKissick, D-Durham, who served on a working group to devise a compensation program, said he believes that since the compensation appropriation was in the House budget, it could come up again when the budget conference committee negotiates a compromise budget between the House and the Senate.
“It’s one of those things that’s certainly eligible for negotiation and discussion,” McKissick said.
McKissick said he would have preferred that the eugenics compensation measure not be linked to the tax measure. “Be that as it may, it ended up being linked,” McKissick said.
The sponsor of the measure, Sen. Clark Jenkins, D-Edgecombe, could not be reached for comment on why he linked the compensation and tax measure in his proposal.
Berger, who called the eugenics practice “reprehensible,” wouldn’t rule out the potential for eugenics compensation to be in the final budget.
“I don’t think anything’s impossible,” Berger said. “It (Wednesday’s action) makes it measurably more difficult.”
Barry Smith is an associate editor of Carolina Journal.