Safety and sobriety

First Posted: 8/3/2013

Should legislation that requires limited drug testing and criminal background checks by local departments of social services become law, and all it needs is the signature of a Republican governor, the expense of the program might be more than the savings.

That was the experience in Florida last year, when it began drug testing applicants for welfare and found that the cost of the tests exceeded the savings in denied benefits.

But that doesn’t mean the Florida program — and the ones proposed for North Carolina — don’t have a greater benefit, as there can be no price placed on a person’s sobriety or the public’s safety.

The legislation on Gov. Pat McCrory’s desk, which was pushed through by Republicans who are intent on reforming all aspects of government, requires drug tests for the WorkFirst program, which provides cash benefits and job training to the unemployed, and criminal background checks for beneficiaries of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or Food and Nutrition Services programs.

The criminal background checks should be a no-brainer. It’s mind boggling that people who are charged with felonies but not in custody or convicted criminals who are in violation of their parole or probation should be able to walk into a governmental building and apply for and then receive benefits without fear of a consequence.

We know that the words government and efficiency don’t belong in the same sentence, but we see no reason that criminal background checks cannot be managed easily and economically by socials services employees with the aid of a computer and the Internet. Reporters for this newspaper make those checks every day without leaving their desks.

The program has the potential to take some criminals off the streets and put them where they belong.

The drug-testing mandate is trickier, as there will be howls that denied benefits will create ripples that build into tidal waves before crashing down on the innocent. What about the poor baby that goes hungry because his parents are addicted to cocaine and either flunk or skip the drug test?

We get it, which is why we favor drug rehabilitation over denied benefits, at least for first- and perhaps even second-time offenders.

The program will be popular as more and more people are growing weary of the dependence our government, especially on the federal level, is fostering. In Robeson County, however, there will be less enthusiasm because of the high number of people on welfare, drugs and who live outside the law.

But the programs have the potential to push some addicts toward sobriety and some criminals into prison. Seems to us that makes for good legislation.