North Carolina Governor Vetoes Bill Mandating Drug Testing For Welfare Recipients


Gov. Pat McCrory (R-NC)

Gov. Pat McCrory (R-NC) (Credit: Takaaki Iwabu/The News & Observer)

Gov. Pat McCrory (R-NC) (Credit: Takaaki Iwabu/The News & Observer)

North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) vetoed a bill Thursday that would have mandated drug testing for some public benefits applicants in the state, calling it an expensive and ineffective way to fight drug addiction.

“Drug testing Work First applicants as directed in this bill could lead to inconsistent application across the state’s 100 counties,” McCrory said in a statement. “That’s a recipe for government overreach and unnecessary government intrusion.”

The governor did issue an executive order Thursday retaining some elements of HB 392 that verify an applicant’s criminal history.

North Carolina’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union had opposed the bill, arguing it represented an unnecessary intrusion on a select class of people with no reasonable suspicion of drug use.

“Our state and federal constitutions protect the privacy and dignity of all North Carolinians against unreasonable searches, and all available evidence has shown that welfare applicants are no more likely to use drugs than the general public,” ACLU-NC executive director Jennifer Rudinger said in a statement.

In fact, when a similar law was enacted in Florida in 2011, a lower rate of welfare recipients was found to be using illegal drugs than the general public. The Florida law was enforced for just four months before a federal court found the drug tests violated the Fourth Amendment because the state did not have reasonable suspicion that welfare recipients were using drugs. The ruling was upheld by a federal appeals court in February.

Additionally, because recipients of negative tests are reimbursed for the cost of the test, the laws can cost far more to the state than the amount of money saved from catching illegal drug users. Similar legislation has passed in at least 8 states, including Kansas and Georgia.

HB 392 was passed as part of a recent spate of conservative laws from the state’s Republican-controlled legislature, the same series that spawned the recent “Moral Monday” protests. The bills McCrory has signed into law include the nation’s worst voter suppression bill and the infamous “motorcycle abortion” law restricting the right to choose. Following the enactment of the laws, the General Assembly’s approval rating fell to 24 percent in a new poll.

Joseph Diebold is an intern with ThinkProgress.