Editorial: Bad bill richly deserved this veto

Aug. 19, 2013 @ 09:06 AM

Gov. Pat McCrory deserves praise for vetoing a drug test requirement for people applying for welfare and food stamps — a bill that he correctly described as fiscally irresponsible and potentially intrusive.

The idea behind drug-testing applicants for public assistance is rational enough: People receiving help from taxpayers should not be wasting their money on drugs.

But existing law already requires local social service agencies to screen for substance abusers and potentially help with treatment, only there is not a requirement for drug testing.

Mandatory drug tests have already been tried in multiple states, and in each instance the program finds a low percentage of drug users — in Florida, the percentage was even lower than in the general population — so it winds up costing the state more to administer the program that the state saves in withheld benefits.

In addition, the drug tests have been challenged in courts, and so far in each case they have been struck down.

It simply makes no sense to adopt a program that has been tried and repeatedly found not only to be a waste of time and money but also to be illegal.

Seeking to address the underlying issue, McCrory issued an executive order Wednesday for the Department of Health and Human Services to make sure that there have been criminal background checks done on first-time or renewing applicants for benefits. If it works, that sounds like a reasonable step, but since it still adds to the workload of county employees, its effectiveness should be evaluated later.

McCrory’s veto of this bill is noteworthy not only because it was one of his first two vetoes but because it chafed House Speaker Thom Tillis. It is unclear how deep that irritation goes, but Tillis’ growing reputation for power politics makes any veto of a bill backed by Tillis’ branch of the Republican Party an act of courage. The politically easier path would have been to sign the bill and let the courts strike it down. That would have been easier for McCrory, but not for the state.