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Bills on immigration and drug-testing welfare recipients draw McCrory vetoes

Gov. Pat McCrory vetoed his first bill on Thursday – legislation that would have given social services workers license to drug test some people applying for welfare.

McCrory, in a statement his office released, said he supported another provision in the bill – making sure that fugitive felons are not on public assistance – and so he has issued an executive order to strengthen criminal background checks and information sharing. The governor directed state agencies to develop recommendations on how best to exchange information about fugitive felons.

“While I support the efforts to ensure that fugitive felons are not on public assistance rolls, and to share information about them with law enforcement, other parts of this bill are unfair, fiscally irresponsible and have potential operational problems,” McCrory said.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Dean Arp, a Republican from Monroe, would have made people applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, also called Work First, take drug tests before getting aid if they are suspected of drug use. The bill also would have required county Department of Social Services offices to make sure applicants didn’t have outstanding felony warrants for arrest, and weren’t violating parole or probation. If deemed necessary, DSS workers could have required fingerprinting, as well.

But during House Bill 392’s journey through the legislature this session, its most contested provision was drug testing of Work First applicants.

Originally, all applicants would have to take drug tests. But in a review of the legislation, Rep. Sarah Stevens learned that blanket drug testing is unconstitutional. So Stevens, a Mount Airy Republican, changed the bill’s language. The final version required “reasonable suspicion,” which could mean a social services worker finds an applicant has been arrested or charged with a drug-related offense in the past three years, or a substance abuse expert finds the applicant’s appearance or behavior suspicious. Other methods for finding reasonable suspicion could have been established by a Department of Health and Human Services commission.

The bill would have required applicants to pay for the drug tests, and would have only been reimbursed if they tested negative. Those who tested positive would turned away, and referred to drug treatment services.

The final version of the bill received bipartisan support, because of the limited nature of the drug testing. But some lawmakers still found the legislation unnecessary, saying it will weaken the state’s safety net for low-income residents.

Jarvis: 919-829-4576
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