There are so many reasons that it is a ridiculous idea to require drug tests for all applicants for Work First/Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or “TANF” benefits (as proposed by multiple state senators) that it’s hard to know where to begin.
It would be absurdly expensive. It would likely catch a tiny number of people. It would likely undermine the state’s ongoing successful efforts to help get people with drug abuse problems into treatment. It is also absurdly unfair to pick only on TANF recipients — Why not all college students? Or all legislators? Or all recipients of economic incentive giveaways?
But here’s another and less debatable reason: It’s unconstitutional. Last month, the Federal Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit in Atlanta unanimously struck down a Florida law that is the basis of the North Carolina proposal.
According to the court:
“Here, the state argues that there is a ‘special need’ to test TANF applicants because TANF funds should not be used for drugs as drug use undermines the program’s goals of moving applicants into employment and promoting child welfare and family stability. But this argument, which assumes drug use, begs the question. The question is not whether drug use is detrimental to the goals of the TANF program, which it might be. Instead, the only pertinent inquiry is whether there is a substantial special need for mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of TANF recipients when there is no immediate or direct threat to public safety, when those being searched are not directly involved in the frontlines of drug interdiction, when there is no public school setting where the government has a responsibility for the care and tutelage of its young students, or when there are no dire consequences or grave risk of imminent physical harm as a result of waiting to obtain a warrant if a TANF recipient, or anyone else for that matter, is suspected of violating the law. We conclude that, on this record, the answer to that question of whether there is a substantial special need for mandatory suspicionless drug testing is ‘no.’”
Unfortunately, Senator Tommy Tucker (pictured above) isn’t apparently interested in the law or the constitution. According to Laura Leslie of WRAL who covered the Senate Judiciary 2 Committee meeting this morning on the bill, Tucker said the following when N.C. Justice Center lawyer Bill Rowe (an attorney with nearly 30 years’ of expertise in such matters) pointed out the unconstitutionality of the proposed law:
“You’re OK with (drug users) getting federal dollars if they’ve had a doobie and get the munchies and need more food stamps? Sit down.”
Tucker, the owner of a heating and cooling business who “attended” N.C. State and has no evident experience in the law is obviously the one who should sit down.