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Drug testing for benefits raises tempers, questions

Posted April 9, 2013

— A proposal to require applicants for federal benefits to pay for drug testing raised tempers and questions in a Senate Judiciary 2 Committee hearing Tuesday morning.

Senate Bill 594, sponsored by Sen. Jim Davis, R-Macon, would require applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – known as Work First in North Carolina – to pay out of pocket for drug testing for all controlled substances.

If the tests come back negative, the applicant would be reimbursed.  If the tests come back positive, the applicant would be denied benefits until he or she has entered and paid for drug treatment.

Current law requires social service agencies to work with and identify clients who may have substance abuse problems, including alcohol, and refer them to treatment. The new proposal would require blanket testing for any applicant 18 and older. 

"If you have money to buy drugs, you have money to buy food, you have money to support your family," Davis said. "You don't deserve public assistance."

Davis said applicants who don't use drugs "will gladly" find the money for the tests, knowing they will be reimbursed. 

Sen. Ellie Kinnaird, D-Orange, asked how applicants would afford the tests.

"If they're already there because they need food stamps, where are they going to come up with that money? They're scraping the bottom," Kinnaird said.

Staff attorney Hal Pell confirmed that multiple drug tests would be needed to screen for all legally controlled substances. The cost could easily exceed $100.

"Our goal is not to penalize poor people, but to get people who are using drugs to get help," Davis said. "There's some real teeth in this."

It's unclear where the reimbursement money would come from. Staff attorneys couldn't immediately say whether federal TANF dollars can be used to pay for drug testing. If not, the state would have to find the money elsewhere.

The bill would also require agencies to inform applicants that they will not be required to submit to a test if they do not apply.

Sen. Angela Bryant, D-Nash, questioned whether the purpose of that is to "scare away" applicants. 

Davis denied it. "These people are sharp enough to understand: If you're on drugs, you may want to consider delaying your application for benefits," he said.

Tempers flared after Bill Rowe with the N.C. Justice Center told lawmakers similar legislation in Florida and Michigan has been struck down by courts as unconstitutional.

"Our Fourth Amendment doesn't allow suspicion-less testing of people," Rowe said. "There's no decision that says this is OK."

Rowe also cited studies that show drug use is no more common among TANF recipients than in the general public.

Sen. Tommy Tucker, R-Union, argued with Rowe.

"You're OK with (drug users) getting federal dollars if they've had a doobie and get the munchies and need more food stamps?" Tucker asked. "Sit down."

Bryant said the bill exposes its supporters' "prejudice," noting that it affects "mostly poor people and a significant number of them people of color."  

"There's a lot of people getting government money," she said. "Let's not start with poor people on this. Let's start with ourselves. When you run for election, you should have to take a drug test. If we give a scholarship, you should have to take a drug test." 

"I really reject the notion of injecting race into this thing," Davis shot back. "I'm sick and tired of it. This is not a racial bill."

"Folks are concerned about civil liberties," said an emotional Sen. Bill Cook, R-Beaufort, pounding the table. "I saw a kid I grew up with lose his life to drugs. We have got to do something. I'm sick of this bickering about small stuff. The important thing is fixing this."

The bill passed the committee on party lines. It now goes to the Senate Health Committee.

265 Comments

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  • OneNationUnderGod Apr 11, 2013

    Can we send you the bill? For the tests and the doomed litigation to get this past Constitutional scrutiny?-goldenosprey

    Guess the same could be said about the background checks for firearms the libs are pushing for so hard? Not like drugs have ever killed anyone or anyone has ever been killed over drugs though right?

  • Crumps Br0ther Apr 11, 2013

    I guess conservative values really depend on whose ox is being gored.
    goldenosprey

    That could be said about liberals too. You dont care that people are here illegally but you want to know what your neighbor has in gun cabinet. Interesting.

  • rolliby Apr 10, 2013

    Welfare is supposed to be a hand-up, not a hand-out. Right?

    So, if someone on welfare is supposed to be looking for a job, and they can't pass a drug test to get or keep a job, then they are just scamming the system.

    If they knowingly do drugs, it is a statement that they are not really looking for a job at all because there is hardly a job out there today that won't drug test you to get the job.

  • goldenosprey Apr 10, 2013

    "Trust me, big pharma needs no more money. Obama filled their coffers when they supported and advocated for Obama care. Yes, Obama made big pharma richer." PBC

    You mean Bush?! The father of Medicare pt. D and no negotiating with big Pharma for better prices?

    The benefit to big pharma from Obamacare will inure because of the repubs and DINOS in the Senate who held out for their big donors.

  • Proud Black Constitutionalist Apr 10, 2013

    "As long as big pharma gets a check, you can get real messed up and it's all legal."

    @golenosprey--Trust me, big pharma needs no more money. Obama filled their coffers when they supported and advocated for Obama care. Yes, Obama made big pharma richer.

  • goldenosprey Apr 10, 2013

    " Drugs are illegal and there is no such thing as a responsible/recreational drug user." One Nation Under

    ...except alcohol, caffeine and any powerful narcotic one can get an MD to prescribe for you. As long as big pharma gets a check, you can get real messed up and it's all legal.

  • OneNationUnderGod Apr 10, 2013

    The individuals that do not support this bill due support the use of drugs and what to help these individuals get free money. Tis bill needs to pass. Sherlock April 10, 2013 7:46 a.m. Report abuse

    I support this bill and the use of drugs if you take responsibilty for using those drugs and dont committ a crime while on those drugs or any time. You can be a responsible drug user (recreational) like you can be a responsible gun owner.Minarchist

    Your comparison is irrelevant. Drugs are illegal and there is no such thing as a responsible/recreational drug user. Furthermore, committing a crime is committing a crime weather you are under the influence or not. Guns are not illegal when used/carried by a responsible gun gun owner...

  • kornfan2448 Apr 10, 2013

    "As a taxpaying 53%er I do not want to pay for all these negative tests we'll have to refund. A lot of beneficiaries are working (contrary to conservative belief) and qualify for benefits because their wages are low, and are tested by their employers." ~ goldenosprey

    My thoughts precisely.

  • goldenosprey Apr 10, 2013

    "This is great. Can we do it ASAP?"

    Can we send you the bill? For the tests and the doomed litigation to get this past Constitutional scrutiny?

    As a taxpaying 53%er I do not want to pay for all these negative tests we'll have to refund. A lot of beneficiaries are working (contrary to conservative belief) and qualify for benefits because their wages are low, and are tested by their employers.

    Redundant waste of $, but hey, it's more important than teachers.

  • lessismore Apr 10, 2013

    MiniarChrist...you are delusional, and just like Obama you lie.
    No one gets to vote for a central bank....Government does that and democrats are in charge, so, blame the democrats.

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