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Drug Testing Bill Defeated

In what is seen as a loss for law-and-order conservatives, a bill that would require drug testing for welfare recipients in North Dakota has been voted down in the House. The bill, HB 1385 lost in a 72 to 19 landslide.

It may be that the stringent measures in the legislation killed it, more than the intent to keep drug abuse out of the system. As written the measure would have required mandatory testing for welfare recipients without establishing suspicious circumstances and simultaneously make them foot the bill. The bill was amended before the vote to require reasonable suspicion by a social worker, but even that wasn’t enough to make it palatable.

The main problem proponents of a drug-free benefits program face here and in other states that have tried to pass similar legislation is the impact the loss of welfare funds has on those who aren’t actually taking the drugs. If a husband tests positive and benefits are denied, the entire family may be negatively impacted. If there isn’t enough justification to remove children from a household (a single positive drug test), how can there be enough justification to ruin the family financially?

Those few states that have passed similar legislation are now facing court challenges based on Constitutional protections against unlawful searches, since taking bodily fluids is held to be a search under established law. Further, removing benefits by administrative fiat, instead of by court order, has the taint of overreaction. After all, we have perfectly good laws to deal with drug use or sales in the criminal justice system and testing for drugs is a common stipulation in probation – if someone is taking illegal drugs, they can be prosecuted, without resorting to punishing them by way of taking away benefits.

What’s really missing here is an offer of treatment when someone is suspected of using drugs. Mandatory treatment – without loss of benefits – would be a more humane way to address the problem.

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