Lawmakers in Raleigh are considering a bill that would allow four urban counties to compensate people involuntarily sterilized by the order of county authorities.
It deserves public and legislative support.
But it would only be the first of many steps toward seeing victims of sterilization at county officials’ hands compensated. County commissioners then would have to follow through.
The victims are thought to live mostly in Guilford, Forsyth, Wake and Mecklenburg counties.
As it is written, the initial version of the bill would allow counties with populations of more than 500,000 as of the 2010 federal Census to provide payments to victims of sterilization from their general funds.
Ironically, that provision excludes two of those four counties, Guilford and Forsyth, but one of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, told BH Media’s Richard Craver that “if the bill somehow excludes Forsyth and Guilford, we will fix. The intent is to make sure any who were not compensated are in fact paid.”
Payments would be at the discretion of each county board and kept private.
While we understand the sensitivity of the matter, it would be in the public’s interest to know if and when the payments were finally made.
The bill’s other sponsors are state Reps. Amos Quick and Pricey Harrison, Democrats, and Jon Hardister, a Republican, all from Guilford County.
Several dozen individuals could quality for county compensation, according to former Rep. Paul Stam, R.-Wake. He told the state House in 2016 that he believes 90 percent to 99 percent of the individuals sterilized against their will lived in the four counties, with the majority in Mecklenburg.
“It is a simple matter of justice,” Stam said at the time. And he was right.
A similar situation played itself out of the state level over more than a decade, beginning with the Winston-Salem Journal’s 2002 landmark investigative series, “Against Their Will,” which revealed the state had rendered barren more than 7,600 men, women and children, declaring them mentally or physically unfit to have babies, often for flimsy reasons. In 2013, after a decade of pushing by the late state Rep. Larry Womble of Winston-Salem and then-state Sen. Thom Tillis, North Carolina became the first state in the nation to approve compensation for victims of forced sterilization. The state established a $10 million pool from which qualified victims equally share, paying each living victim around $45,000, with the final payments going out last year.
But that wasn’t the end of the story.
Several previous bills with this intent failed to pass in the legislature for one reason or another. One, introduced in 2017, would have only permitted counties with populations above 500,000 and below 900,000 as of the 2010 Census to compensate victims, which, oddly, excluded every single county in the state.
“I believe it is time to fulfill the commitment to compensate these victims and this bill does that,” Lambeth said.
“I believe it will pass this time and did not in the past because we were at the end of session and we ran out of time.”
We only hope just compensation comes through for the rest before the victims’ time is up.