Editorial: Suspicionless testing a bad call for all involved

Apr. 24, 2013 @ 08:01 PM

So, now the message seems to be: “I’m a senator. You’re a citizen. You need to be tested.”

On Monday, North Carolina’s Senate passed legislation – mostly along party lines – that requires applicants for the state’s cash and worker-training welfare program to take drug tests to qualify for benefits.

Rank-and-file lawmakers in the General Assembly are paid $13,951 a year. Not a great salary, but it’s still taxpayer money.

Sen. Gladys Robinson, D-Guilford, tried amending the drug testing legislation so that elected officials, including legislators, the governor and cabinet members, would also be required to take annual tests.

If the law is good enough for the people who elect you, shouldn’t it be good enough to apply to the elected?

Or are senators supposed to be presumed above reproach when it comes to this sort of thing?

We’ll never really get a true sense of what they thought, because Sen. Tom Apodaca of Henderson County used a substitute amendment maneuver to help the Republican-controlled body avoid a vote.

Coming just a week after Sen. Tom Tucker of Waxhaw shut down a newspaper publisher’s complaint by declaring his authority as a legislator over a citizen (who knew that, suddenly, they don’t work for the people who vote them into office?), this latest legislation seems like yet another example of arrogance in Raleigh.

We’re not opposed to requiring drug tests if an individual recipient is suspected of substance abuse. If someone is drawing state benefits and it can be proven that they are throwing that money away on drugs, they should be ineligible to receive those benefits any longer.

But we can’t support this newly approved process, known as “suspicionless drug testing,” which, in other states, has been deemed a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

We can’t abide a process that requires the poor who need this assistance to pay up front for drug tests, taking money that’s already in short supply for them and effectively snatching food from the mouths of their children.

And, as research by the N.C. Justice Center suggests that the proportion of substance-abusing welfare recipients is rather low, the state may end up picking up the tab for $2.3 million to reimburse people who’ve done nothing wrong for tests proving just that.

Senators should have gotten a clue when they dodged the question for themselves.

They don’t deserve to be treated as suspect without due cause any more than the people they represent.

With this vote, however, they clearly suggest that they are above the law they want everyone else to follow.