Tillis steps up again

| July 3, 2015
Thom Tillis

Thom Tillis

Editorial by Greensboro News-Record, July 3, 2014.

Thom Tillis distinguished himself as speaker of the N.C. House of Representatives by advancing legislation to compensate victims of the state’s eugenics program.

Documented survivors are receiving payments of $20,000 each, a small but tangible acknowledgment of the outrageous crime committed against them.

Although then-Gov. Mike Easley issued an apology in 2001, efforts to provide compensation failed under Democratic-controlled legislatures. Tillis, whose Republican Party took over the legislature in 2011, made it happen two years later.

Now, as a freshman U.S. senator, he’s taking steps at the federal level to secure the payments. With Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.), Tillis introduced a bill last week to prohibit the government from counting state compensation payments against recipients when benefits from federal programs are calculated.

Original co-sponsors of the bill are Republican Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina and Virginia’s two Democratic senators.

The bill is fair, sensible and necessary. Without this protection, a $20,000 payment from the state could be used to deny food stamps, disability or other benefits. “Federal laws can unintentionally punish victims who receive eugenics compensation by preventing them from receiving federal benefits,” Tillis said in a news release. “The bipartisan legislation introduced will ensure that won’t happen.”

North Carolina enacted a sterilization law in 1929 and created a state eugenics board in 1933. Individuals were chosen for forced or coerced sterilization if they were thought to be of low intelligence or bad moral character. Officials were often wrong about their estimation of the people they selected for sterilization, but that wasn’t the point. The state doesn’t have the right to decide who should or shouldn’t have children. This program continued until 1974 and pulled more than 7,000 people into its clutches. Many thousands more, who might have been born, were never given life. Those subjected to sterilization were robbed of children and grandchildren.

North Carolina’s compensation program isn’t perfect. The original amount provided — $20,000 — is too little. It likely will be increased, as only a few hundred victims have been identified. Furthermore, the 2013 law only covers victims of the state eugenics board and not those of county sterilization programs. That should be remedied.

Nevertheless, it is a pioneering effort. Many states conducted involuntary sterilizations, but North Carolina is the first to compensate victims.

Tillis showed compassion and skill in enacting this important legislation. Graciously, in his news release last week he gave credit to former state Rep. Larry Womble of Winston-Salem, the original advocate for compensation. Womble, a Democrat, never got his own party to support him. Recognition from Tillis, a Republican, is touching.

The Senate should act quickly on this bill before any of the victims loses benefits to which he or she is entitled. After they have waited so long for overdue compensation, it would be another crime if they lost a dime of it.


Category: NC SPIN Perspectives - Opinions from NC Leaders & Organizations

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