Eighty-five years after U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Virginia eugenics law allowing the state to forcibly sterilize anyone it considered genetically deficient, a state lawmaker is calling on Gov. Bob McDonnell and the General Assembly to make a "symbolic payment" to any living victims of the law.
That Virginia law led to the forced sterilization of about 7,500 Virginians between 1924 and 1979 for everything from mental illness to alcoholism and thousands more in other states that modeled their laws on Virginia's. And now, said Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, it's time to "start the healing process" in the state where it all began.
Hope said he had considered asking the state to compensate victims, but doesn't necessarily think his proposal will lead to reparations.
"Right now, we're unsure of the form of the payment," Hope told The Washington Examiner prior to announcing his proposal at a Richmond press conference. "But we want to start to take the steps necessary for the healing process to begin."
He said a task force may be needed just to determine how the state could get in touch with living victims.
"It's a little premature to talk about a bill," Hope said. "We really just want to get out and start talks. I want to know who they are and how they were affected."
There appears to be little appetite in the General Assembly for any program that could add to the state's costs, regardless of the cause.
"Anytime you do these kinds of reparations, it opens the door to all kinds of other stuff, including legal liabilities," House Speaker Bill Howell said. "The state has apologized for its actions and acknowledged that what it did was inappropriate, and I'm not sure if a cash sum would make them feel any better."
North Carolina lawmakers earlier this year considered compensating victims of its eugenics law. A proposal that would have awarded each living victim $50,000 passed the House, but died in the Senate.
Still, Hope remains optimistic.
"This is very much the early stages," he said. "No amount can make up for the shameful policy we enacted. People are still alive and suffering, and this is just the start of the healing process."