The General Assembly returns to Raleigh on Tuesday to decide whether to override or sustain Governor McCrory’s veto of House Bill 392, the controversial and costly proposal to drug test public assistance recipients and applicants.
In announcing his veto of HB 392 on August 15th, the Governor said: “Similar efforts in other states have proved to be expensive and ineffective at catching drug abusers. It makes no sense to repeat those mistakes in North Carolina.” Advocates for poor people agree. As argued last night in an email alert distributed by my colleague Jeff Shaw at the NC Justice Center:
- HB 392 shifts the focus from treatment to testing. Research shows that differences in the proportion of public assistance and non-public assistance recipients using illegal drugs are statistically insignificant. However, for those recipients who suffer from substance abuse, appropriate treatment is logical and a wise investment. Under current law, for individuals who are found by substance abuse professionals to need treatment, participation in treatment programs is a condition to receiving benefits. The current proposal deletes all treatment options for these individuals. If people don’t get the appropriate treatment they need, societal costs will be all the much higher.
- Fingerprinting provisions in HB 392 are unclear about how and who to fingerprint and will impose unruly administrative and fiscal burdens on counties. HB 392 may require county offices to provide fingerprints of some individuals to the Department of Justice. However, the bill is silent as to the implementation of such a fingerprint scheme. Additionally, the Department of Justice “may charge a reasonable fee” for conducting criminal record checks, which is an “unfunded mandate.” HB 392 will likely require the hiring and training of additional staff and impose fees paid by cash-strapped county governments that continue to feel the recession’s impact. DSS estimates that the “cost of the criminal records check would cost millions of dollars statewide.
- The upfront cost of drug testing acts as a deterrent for the extremely low-income families applying for TANF assistance. A drug testing fee will act as a deterrent for extremely low-income families trying to gain a foothold on the economic ladder by working or looking for work. When they need help the most.
Let’s hope lawmakers come to their senses and/or that Gov. McCrory finally musters up the courage and energy to for once to lead rather than meekly follow to lead of right-wing ideologues. Stay tuned. We’ll see what happens on Tuesday.