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Bill Would Compensate Virginia's Forced Sterilization Victims

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Virginia lawmakers are considering reparations for surviving victims of Virginia's forced sterilization program, which ran from 1924 to 1979. Under the proposal, each survivor would be given $50,000.

How much should Virginia's dark history of eugenics cost? One estimate says it could cost as much as $73 million. For now, though, a bipartisan coalition is moving forward with a $1 million budget amendment. To make the case for the allocation, conservative Prince William Del. Bob Marshall read from a 1924 law that described defective persons who would become a menace to society.

"I'm not reading some religious tract or eugenics tract," Marshall says. "This is the code of Virginia, decided in this building in this room by our predecessors in the General Assembly."

The first year of compensation would require enacting procedures and setting up a way to reach out to survivors. Budget analysts estimate that about 20 percent of victims would come forward to seek compensation — about 1,500 victims during the four-year span of the proposed program.

"We don't always agree on things, but I do stand with him on these issues regarding reparations and a symbolic payment for those who have been sterilized," Arlington Del. Patrick Hope says of Marshall.

Members of a House budget committee heard testimony Monday from a surviving victim of forced sterilization in favor of the $1 million budget amendment. Lawmakers are looking at a tight budget year, though, and the request will have to compete with all of the other pressing needs in Richmond.

But some Republicans have indicated they may be willing to support the effort. Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) says the vote has implications for the abortion debate.

"One of the great proponents of the eugenics movement was one Margaret Sanger, who was also the founder of the modern-day Planned Parenthood," Gilbert says.

Hope and Marshall will find out if their budget amendment has been accepted early next month.

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