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Berger has concerns about availability of funds for eugenics victims

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Senate leader Phil Berger said the measure will face opposition in the Senate, where it died last year. Senate leader Phil Berger said the measure will face opposition in the Senate, where it died last year.
RALEIGH, N.C. -

Senate leader Phil Berger on Thursday questioned whether the state should dedicate funds to eugenics victims, given the tight state budget this year.

"With budgetary constraints, it's not appropriate," Berger said in an interview with WNCN. While the actions of the state in the eugenics program were "reprehensible," Berger asked if the state has "this sort of money" to spend when it faces significant reductions in appropriations for education and health and human services.

Gov. Pat McCrory included money for eugenics reparations in his two-year budget proposal for the state government, unveiled Wednesday. McCrory budgeted $10 million for compensation to victims of the state's former Eugenics Board Program, despite the bill's previous failure to make it through the Senate last year.

"The longer you put off paying for these types of things, the more damage you do," McCrory said Wednesday. "I feel strongly that should be included in the budget for both the House and Senate."

The bill passed the House last year but died in the Senate.

"There was no real support for this last time," Berger said.

This controversial issue first arose last summer, when the state sought to compensate those sterilized under the eugenics program.

The NC Justice for Sterilization Foundation estimates that 7,600 North Carolinians were sterilized from 1929 to 1974, and the bill last summer would have awarded each living victim up to $50,000. The number of living victims is estimated anywhere between 1,350 and 1,800.

Despite backing from then-Gov. Bev Perdue and the passing the State House of Representatives, the bill died in the Senate.

North Carolina is not the only state to consider compensation options for victims. According to Lutz Kaebler, associate professor of sociology at the University of Vermont, more than 30 states adopted compulsory sterilization laws and caused more than 60,000 sterilizations, according to the school website.

While the NC bill faces significant opposition in the Senate, House Speaker Thom Tillis has repeatedly voiced his support for the reparations.

In a statement about McCrory's budget, Tillis said "many aspects of Gov. McCrory's budget are much-needed and long overdue, and I am especially glad to see the inclusion of the Eugenics Compensation Program.

One issue for the compensation is knowing how much the state might have to pay. The number of victims coming forward could range anywhere from zero to 1,800, according to The New York Times.

After WNCN's article was published, Berger spokeswoman Amy Auth said Berger has not had a conversation with the Republican caucus on eugenics spending, so he doesn't know the Senate's thoughts on the issue yet.

Berger, in a statement, said, "The Senate Republican caucus has not discussed or taken a position on eugenics compensation during the 2013 session, but will give this issue and every other recommendation in the governor's proposal thorough consideration as part of our overall budget process."

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