Four Triad legislators, including Rep. Donny Lambeth, R-Forsyth, are attempting again to pass a bipartisan bill that would allow four urban counties to compensate people involuntarily sterilized by county order.

It’s uncertain, however, whether the boards of commissioners in Forsyth, Guilford, Mecklenburg and Wake will choose to provide payments from their General Fund, which is at the essence of House Bill 576.

Payments would be at the discretion of each board and kept private.

The Winston-Salem Journal’s 2002 award-winning series about North Carolina’s eugenics endeavor, “Against Their Will,” brought awareness to the state’s program.

North Carolina ran one of the most aggressive sterilization programs in the country from 1929 through 1974, rendering barren more than 7,600 men, women and children on often-flimsy evidence that they were mentally or physically unfit to reproduce.

Although the N.C. Eugenics Board determined most of the sterilization decisions, some were made by county officials.

Gov. Mike Easley apologized for the forced sterilizations in 2002, but it took about another 10 years for legislators to set up the compensation program.

Qualified victims were required to submit compensation forms to the commission by June 30, 2014, and 780 of a potential 2,000 living victims did.

By February 2018, about 220 victims had each received three payments totaling $45,000 from those considered as qualified by the N.C. Industrial Commission.

Former Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, who led the 2016 eugenics legislative effort, told the state House he believed 90 percent to 99 percent of the individuals sterilized against their will on orders from county workers lived in the four counties — with the majority in Mecklenburg.

“It is a simple matter of justice,” Stam said at that time. He projects “several dozen” could qualify for county compensation.

HB576 would have to clear four House committees — in order Judiciary, State and Local Government, Appropriations and Rules and Operations — before reaching the House floor.

The initial version of the bill would apply only to counties with a population of more than 500,000 as of the 2010 federal Census — the latest decennial census.

At that time, Forsyth County had 350,670 residents, Guilford County 488,406, Mecklenburg 919,628 and Wake 900,993.

Lambeth said that “if the bill somehow excludes Forsyth and Guilford, we will fix. The intent is make sure any who were not compensated are in fact paid.”

Other primary sponsors are from Guilford: Democratic Reps. Pricey Harrison and Amos Quick and Republican Rep. Jon Hardister.

A similar bill, Senate Bill 29, cleared the House in June 2016 by a 100-11 vote that affected counties with populations of at least 350,000 as of the 2010 Census.

However, the House had gutted the original SB29 — which was about allowing county register of deeds and clerks of court to redact dates of birth on certain public records — and replaced it with the eugenics legislation. The Senate chose not to address the new version of SB29.

House Bill 846, another county eugenics compensation bill, was introduced in April 2017. It would have only permitted counties with populations above 500,000 and below 900,000 as of the 2010 Census, which actually meant no county could have qualified.

That bill did not clear the House Rules and Operations committee.

In 2015, Senate Bill 532 was introduced with a county compensation element. It did not advance from the Senate Rules and Operations committee.

“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.

“This time, we filed early and should have time to get it resolved.”

rcraver@wsjournal.com 336-727-7376 @rcraverWSJ

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