House bill proposes welfare drug tests

Dave Owen, Staff Writer

North Dakota legislators in the house have continued this cycle to be at odds with the North Dakota state senate, oftentimes passing laws which narrowly failed in the Senate by spectacular margins in the house. This week, yet another such law passed 77-12.

This law was long heralded by the political right as the just and proper thing to do in regards to welfare. House Bill 1303 is a drug testing law for those on welfare. This may or may not be a good law, but first we must dispel a few myths about it and explain both what it does and the intent of the law.

When people see such laws, they are immediately fearful that mandatory drug testing would be used as a vehicle to take away welfare from those who are already receiving it, acknowledging the link between drug use and poverty.

The media has claimed this law is doing just that. In reality, it serves a far more humanitarian purpose. Under the current version of the law, anyone under welfare would not have their benefits cut for testing positive for drug use. Rather, they would be forced to enroll in drug rehab/treatment programs to deal with their addiction issues, so long as they continued to test positive, or were on welfare, whichever ceases first. As a result, this law amounts to greater medical care for vulnerable members of the community through a free screening mechanism, something liberal media outlets should have praised republican legislators for rather than criticize.

In fact, this is the first law I have reported on in a positive light this legislative session. It appears the legislature has finally written a balanced and nuanced law, which both clearly identifies the problem and provides a bipartisan solution to the issue.

Now that we have established what this law does, we clearly need to have a conversation on what people thought this law would do, deny welfare for those using drugs.

In order to have this conversation, we must first determine whether welfare is a right or a temporary gift from the state to society. As far as I am concerned, nobody has a right to welfare, but rather society should strive to protect its vulnerable people and create temporary programs to allow them to get back on their feet after a hardship.

Establishing that welfare is a gift from a generous benefactor, we can therefore compare it to things we as students are familiar with like scholarships or federal non-loan based financial aid. It is often in both of these cases that minimum requirements be met.

Scholarships frequently require minimum GPA’s far beyond that of “good academic standing” and for those on need-based financial aid, it’s mandated a certain minimum attendance record regardless of your professors policies and is why most classes now grade to some degree on attendance.

When someone gives you a gift they have the right to stipulate the terms of that gift. If you choose not to agree, you can easily turn down the scholarship or the financial aid. The same goes for welfare. Someone can choose to turn down welfare, simply by not applying or presenting the documentation to continue receiving it.

Even if this law had done what liberals believed it did, there is no legitimate argument against having any requirements the state sees fit put behind welfare, since it is a gift contingent upon the beliefs of those that are giving it.

Much like federal aid for schools, welfare is not a right, but a society deciding to help out those it feels sympathy towards, and therefore society is permitted to set any standards they so desire on the receipt of such funds.

Even though, I am personally against state regulation of the use of certain drugs, the state retains the right to mandate what those receiving its aid can or cannot do to remain eligible.

Remember, the law does not represent what is moral or righteous, rather it represents the limits on permissible behaviors for both the state and the individual.

Dave Owen is a staff writer for The Dakota Student. He can be reached at [email protected]