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The REINS Act and the Biggest Threat to Compensating Victims of Eugenics

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1. REINS Act: Restoring Accountability to Lawmaking

On Wednesday, the United States House passed the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act (REINS Act, H.R. 10) by a 241-184 vote. No Republican voted against the bill, while only four Democrats voted for it.

Congress often delegates significant power to government agencies. As a result, these agencies have an excessive amount of discretion to develop a wide range of costly regulations (e.g., EPA and greenhouse gas rules).

Agencies often interpret statutes in an unreasonable manner, pushing the envelope in an effort to expand their power (e.g., FCC and net neutrality).

The result is that unelected and unaccountable political appointees and bureaucrats develop the most significant policies affecting the nation. Congress, which is the lawmaking body and whose members can be voted out of office, isn’t making these policy decisions.

For decades, there’s been an attempt to create a mechanism for Congress to have some review over the work of agencies.  In 1996, Congress passed the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows Congress to disapprove regulations if both chambers pass a bill to do so. However, this law has proven to be toothless, as one might suspect, with only the Clinton Administration’s ergonomics rule getting shot down through the CRA.

To restore accountability to the system, the REINS Act requires that major rules, defined as, among other things, having an economic impact of $100 million or more, must be approved by both chambers of Congress. The assumption is the regulations won’t go into effect absent Congressional action, whereas with the CRA, the assumption is the regulations will go into effect.

There may be some technical legal issues that exist with this bill, but its purpose and general approach is critical to ensuring that Congress plays its role in making laws, as opposed to the Executive Branch which has no such constitutional role.

There have been some weak criticisms of the bill (and hysterical criticisms). Even in what I think is supposed to be fair reporting, the Washington Post stated:

The House on Wednesday approved a measure that would increase Congress’s authority over the executive branch by making any major regulations subject to its approval.

This statement is misleading. Congress already had the authority in question.  There’s no increase in authority; Congress is simply creating better oversight to ensure powers it delegated to the Executive Branch aren’t being abused.

I could write a book on this, and might, but there’s a nice summary and analysis of the law here.

2. The Biggest Threat to Compensating Forced Sterilization Victims

I have been a very strong supporter of compensating the victims of North Carolina’s forced sterilization program. This issue means a lot to the victims and is one of the most important issues I’ve ever worked on.

Unfortunately, there’s one policy proposal that could and should stop any type of compensation system. If attempts are made to compensate the descendants of the victims (some victims did have children prior to being sterilized), as opposed to the victims themselves, the whole idea of compensation should be shot down. Such a move to compensate the descendants plays right into the reparations types of arguments, such as slavery reparations.  I have written about this problem extensively.

When compensating actual victims, the injury is clear and the harm is concrete. When compensating descendants, any injury is speculative at best.

I bring this up because I was concerned about a recent report by WRAL saying that one member of the governor’s task force, Demetrius Worley Berry, wanted to give $20,000 "to the estates of any verified victims who die before legislation is passed."

The article goes on to say that the task force will address "whether to compensate the estates of sterilization victims who are dead."

The entire task force has done a good job to date, so I hope such a seriously flawed proposal isn’t recommended to the legislature. Besides it being problematic as discussed, such a recommendation would undermine the credibility of the task force.

In addition to $20,000, victims should receive supplemental benefits, the details of which I’m working on.

There’s been talk of providing mental health services, which is perfectly appropriate.

My current ideas include (these are just ideas):

  • Victims would never have to pay state taxes ever again. This could be done through nonrefundable tax credits equal to the average income tax paid by individuals in the state (about $1,100).

  • There would be a $3 check-off on state income tax returns to help the eugenics compensation fund, not unlike the public campaign financing systems.

  • Eliminating all political welfare programs, including the judicial public fund that consists of about $7 million. If the program is eliminated, as it should be, in part due to its constitutional flaws, this significant amount of money should go to the victims as opposed to the general fund.

  • License plates to help subsidize the program and educate the public.

The $20,000 should be paid in increments, likely two-year increments with a statute of limitations of five years (i.e., any victim must request the money within five years of it being made available).

There’s the potential here to provide victims much more than $20,000. While the state won’t be able to properly compensate the victims, it can take significant steps to right the wrongs.

However, if any of this money would go to the descendants, I would be the first to oppose compensation.

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Daren Bakst is Senior Research Fellow in Agricultural Policy at the Heritage Foundation. In this position, Bakst studies and writes about agricultural and environmental policy and property rights, among other issues.  He has done extensive work on the farm bill… ...

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