- Associated Press - Thursday, June 9, 2016

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - North Carolina’s four largest counties would be able to compensate people involuntary sterilized by orders of local governments under a bill that a House committee approved Thursday.

The bill applies to Mecklenburg, Wake, Guilford and Forsyth counties. The bill doesn’t set aside money for the compensation and allows, but doesn’t require, the four counties to establish a way to reimburse people sterilized against their will, said Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake. Stam shepherded a bill passed in 2013 providing compensation for people involuntarily sterilized under the authority of the state Eugenics Board.

“I don’t think this is going to involve many people. I don’t think it’s going to involve much money,” Stam told the House Committee on Children, Youth and Families. “But it is a matter of justice for those people.”

Of the 600 to 700 people who have applied for compensation, fewer than 300 have qualified, Stam said. That leaves each person with total payments of about $50,000 from the $10 million that the state set aside, he said.

The bill covering the four counties doesn’t set an amount for their compensation. It applies to counties with populations of more than 350,000, where Stam said he believed 90 percent to 99 percent of people sterilized against their will on the orders of county workers lived. Like the 2013 law, it applies only to people alive at the time a claim is made and not to estates of victims who have died. Claims must be made by Dec. 31, 2019.

Attorney Elizabeth Haddix of the UNC Center for Civil Rights, who represents some victims, said the bill “is part of the fallacy of this whole thing that there was some sort of separation between the counties and the state.”

The North Carolina Industrial Commission, which determines eligibility, has required documentation that the state Eugenics Board ordered the sterilization, she said. Many people lack paperwork or were coerced by county social workers acting under state auspices, she said.

“The reason we believe all people should be include is because counties were merely following the state eugenics policy,” she said. “A county welfare worker is a state actor. A county welfare office is an arm of the state.”

In February, the state Court of Appeals denied a claim from a woman who was 22 years old when she was coerced into having an abortion and a sterilization procedure in 1974 by a worker from the Cleveland County Department of Social Services who threatened to take her two daughters.

Between 1929 and 1974, about 7,600 people deemed “feeble-minded” or otherwise undesirable were sterilized in North Carolina. Some were children considered promiscuous or troublemakers, while others were adults who were determined to be incompetent. Most were forced or coerced into the procedures.

The state apologized for the sterilizations in 2002, but it took another decade for lawmakers to set up the financial compensation program. North Carolina was the first state to pay compensation to victims of a government-run sterilization program.

The full House is scheduled to consider the bill Monday.

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Martha Waggoner can be reached at http://twitter.com/mjwaggonernc. Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/martha-waggoner

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