House Speaker Thom Tillis told a crowd in Madison County last Friday he'd be in favor of instituting drug testing for people on public assistance. Several other states have adopted similar requirements, most notably Florida, where cash benefit recipients must pay for their own drug tests. (The state will reimburse them if they pass.)
Speaking at Mars Hill College, Tillis said he sees such testing as a step toward entitlement reform. “By gosh, if we come back in 2013, I don’t know if we’ll go as far as Florida, but if you’re receiving government assistance, and every once in a while we want to do random drug tests, done on a fair basis, I think we should do it.” The crowd applauded.
The Speaker said he isn't convinced that the state budget this year doesn't provide enough money for Health and Human Services. “That may be true,” he said, “Or the money’s not getting to the right people.”
"When you go in and you see a woman in a wheelchair – she’s from here, she’s from Asheville – who’s on the brink of losing her benefits, and you know that Health and Human Services is sending checks to a woman who has chosen to have three or four kids out of wedlock?"
"What we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance," he told the crowd.
"We have to show respect for that woman who has cerebral palsy and had no choice in her condition, that needs help, and we should help. And we need to get those folks to look down at these people who choose to get into a condition that makes them dependent on the government, and say, at some point, you’re on your own. We may end up taking care of those babies, but we’re not going to take care of you."
"Won't happen next year," he added. "Wrong time, because it's gonna be politically charged. One of the reasons I may never run for another elected office is because some of these things may just get me railroaded out of town."
Tillis also said in response to an audience question that he would support drug testing for all state employees, too.
The video was initially posted on YouTube by MadisonCountyVideos. Watch the clip at right.
Asked for comment or clarification, Tillis spokesman Jordan Shaw responded late today via email:
"The Speaker simply meant that we need to protect individuals who, through no choice or fault of their own, depend on the state for benefits, and we need to ensure that those individuals are not negatively impacted by a small group of people who may abuse the system. It's about providing real help to those legitimately in need while protecting our programs from fraud, waste and abuse."