NC JUSTICE NEWS: Mandatory Drug Testing + Crucial Conversation in Charlotte + Immigration Reform Debate Moves Forward

April 23, 2013

MANDATORY DRUG TESTING: Legislation is costly, likely illegal, ineffective

Yesterday, the NC Senate gave final approval to Senate Bill 594, legislation that would require mandatory drug testing of all Work First applicants and recipients. Such actions would be costly, likely illegal, and ineffective at identifying and treating drug abuse.

Suspicionless mandatory drug testing for Work First families, as proposed by Senate Bill 594, would place additional financial burdens on struggling families who receive assistance, not to mention the whole of North Carolina. Research has shown that the proportion of welfare recipients with drug abuse problems is low, meaning that the state would have to reimburse the vast majority of applicants and recipients for the costs of their drug tests. A non-partisan legislative attorney at the state General Assembly recently found that testing for drugs may run upwards of $100 for each applicant or participant. In turn, universal drug testing could cost North Carolina as much as $2.3 million for the testing alone.

Suspicionless drug testing of public assistance applicants and recipient also likely violates the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment against unreasonable search and seizure. It also has been found to be an ineffective way to identify and address substance abuse, as it shifts the focus away from screening and services by replacing existing evaluation and treatment provisions with drug-testing mandates.

In short, the bill is both fiscally and morally irresponsible. Funds would be better spent on treatment programs for the individuals who need treatment and on workforce development programs that can help public assistance recipients transition to self-sufficiency.


CRUCIAL CONVERSATION IN CHARLOTTE: Tax the poor, feed the rich?

North Carolina’s elected leaders have promised to enact major tax policy reform legislation this year. Unfortunately, all of the proposals under serious consideration thus far would further shift the responsibility for funding public structures and services away from corporations and wealthy individuals and toward the low- and moderate-income taxpayers who are already struggling in our tough economy.

What would be the likely impact of these proposals? According to Dr. Katherine Newman, it won’t be pretty. Join NC Policy watch on April 25 for a special Crucial Conversation event in Charlotte, co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Charlotte-Mecklenburg, featuring Dr. Newman and Alexandra Forter Sirota, Director of the NC Justice Center's Budget & Tax Center.

Newman, the James B. Knapp Dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences at Johns Hopkins University, has focused much of her scholarly work on the lives of the working poor and mobility up and down the economic ladder. She also has investigated the impact of tax policy on the poor, the history of public opinion’s impact on poverty policy, school violence and the impact of globalization on young people in Italy, Spain, Japan and South Africa, among other issues.

Dr. Newman will be joined by North Carolina’s leading independent tax policy expert, Alexandra Forter Sirota, who will provide the latest details on the tax policy debate in the General Assembly. Don’t miss the opportunity to heart from these experts at this critical time.


IMMIGRATION REFORM: While flawed, bill moves debate forward

While flawed, the Senate bipartisan immigration reform bill has arrived at the right time for the U.S. and holds promise for improvements over what immigrants currently face today.

The bill comes with both the good and the bad. It contains some punitive and troubling provisions — the product of tough negotiations and major compromises. However, the bill also establishes a roadmap to citizenship where there is currently no line to get in, and no way to "play by the rules" for people in communities across the country. The bill is imperfect, but many proposals in the bill will strengthen our economy, protect families, treat U.S.-born and immigrant workers fairly, and give DREAMers and certain migrant workers an accelerated path to citizenship.

Over the next few months, the NC Justice Center will be working with partners and supporters across the state to support what is best in the Senate bill, and to improve what needs to be changed. We need you to join us in hosting local community forums and making calls to Congress. Click here to get involved and support immigration reform that keeps families together — the primary standard by which we should judge all reform proposals.


WORKERS MEMORIAL DAY: Honor victims of workplace accidents on April 26

Last fall, Luis Javier Martinez was working on installing a water line on the NC State University campus when the trench he was working in caved in. He was buried in several feet of dirt and died. Martinez' employer J.F. Wilkerson Contracting Co. of Morrisville had been cited previously for failure to provide its workers with adequate protections from trench cave-ins.

Workplace fatalities are all too common in North Carolina. Yet the lives of these men and women, and the facts of their deaths, are too quickly forgotten. Join us for Workers Memorial Day on Friday, April 26, for a ceremony in remembrance of the lives of all 68 workers who died on the job in 2012.

The event will be held on Friday at noon at the North Carolina Department of Labor at 4 W. Edenton Street in Downtown Raleigh. Bring one or more pairs of shoes — they will line the street curb and symbolize our loss.

Workers Memorial Day is sponsored by Triangle Jobs With Justice, the National Committee for Occupational Health and Safety, the Farmworker Advocacy Network, the North Carolina Justice Center, the Western North Carolina Workers Center, the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, and Student Action with Farmworkers.


SCHOOL VOUCHERS: New bill siphons money away from public education

North Carolina House members filed a bill on April 15 that would siphon money away from public schools, in yet another attempt by lawmakers to undermine, privatize, and dismantle public education.

House Bill 944, the “Opportunity Scholarship Act,” would offer families $4,200 per year in public funds to attend private or religious schools. Yet despite being purported to help lower-income students, the scholarship will do little to aid these students. The maximum amount of the scholarship is too low to permit low-income families to pursue many private schools. Low-income families will have to come up with the rest of the money on their own. Families should not be expected to reach into their pocket to pay for an education when there is a constitutional right to a sound, basic education in our state.

Based on the experiences of other states, the voucher program would likely not save money in North Carolina. Because income eligibility limits are so high ($71,000 for a family of four), high-income people who already had every intention of sending their children to private school can use the credit, costing the state thousands of dollars per student.

There's also little to no evidence that suggests vouchers improve student achievement. Milwaukee and Cleveland have two of the longest-running and most heavily evaluated voucher programs, and yet public school students in both districts are regularly outperforming voucher recipients by a considerable margin. Instead of draining $90 million dollars from our traditional public schools for the failed experiment of funding private schools with public money, we should ensure equitable and adequate funding for our public schools.


DEFENDERS OF JUSTICE AWARDS: Join us on May 9 in Chapel Hill

Join the NC Justice Center on Thursday, May 9 for the 15th Annual Defenders of Justice Awards. Each year, the Justice Center presents its DOJ Awards to honor individuals or organizations that have made significant contributions in the fight against poverty in four areas that reflect the scope of the Justice Center’s work.

The 2013 honorees are:

  • Legislative & Administrative Advocacy: Wayne Goodwin, NC Commissioner of Insurance
  • Litigation: Phil Lehman, NC Office of the Attorney General
    Mortgage Foreclosure Unit, Legal Aid of NC
  • Policy Research and Advocacy: Equality NC
  • Grassroots Empowerment: A. Philip Randolph Institute

Register and purchase tickets here.

The event will be held at the Carolina Club at UNC Chapel Hill's George Watts Hill Alumni Center. Contact Melissa Wiggins for details on sponsorship opportunities at (919) 861-2209 or, or click here.


MEDICAID PRIVATIZATION: Evaluating McCrory's proposed radical privatization

Adam Searing, director of the NC Justice Center's Health Access Coalition, took Gov. McCrory's Medicaid approach to task last week in the Charlotte Observer. Searing writes:

Gov. Pat McCrory has proposed radical privatization for North Carolina’s award-winning Community Care Medicaid program by selling off segments of Medicaid to private health insurers. Aside from McCrory’s dubious rationale, many people are confused as to why he would propose this change on the same day North Carolina’s conservative U.S. Sen. Richard Burr gave a national award to N.C. Medicaid for significantly lowering costs while delivering extremely high-quality care.

McCrory’s privatization scheme has already been tried in multiple other states and follows a well-worn path: private companies come to the state and bid to provide health services for some parts of the Medicaid population. The companies typically compete to serve moms and kids on Medicaid — the largest, healthiest, and least costly group to cover.

For some reason outside investors don’t see much of an upside in providing care to aged and disabled people on Medicaid. This is the smallest group on Medicaid but the largest consumer of costly health services — costing around 63 percent of the state’s Medicaid budget. It’s hard, expensive and, by the way, our moral duty as a society to provide quality care to our lowest-income older adults and people with serious disabilities. That’s why private industry would rather let the government handle that difficult part of Medicaid while they get the healthier and more profitable parents and kids.

Read more here.

Research & Publications: