Sit down and be quiet, part two

Sit down and be quiet, part two

- in Fitzsimon File

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It’s not like we needed more evidence of the arrogance of the current leaders of the state Senate or the obvious disdain they have for the people they are supposed to be representing, but they were nice enough to provide us with plenty more Monday night.

They voted to require applicants for public assistance to take drug tests before receiving benefits and they passed legislation changing the elections for the Wake County School Board and gerrymandering the district lines to make it easier for Republicans to get elected.

The issues might seem to have little in common but they are connected, both a reflection of the hubris of the folks now running the Senate who always know better than the citizens—who they think should just sit down and be quiet. They are the legislators, remember.

Forcing applicants for public benefits to undergo drugs testing is almost certainly unconstitutional, not that it matters much to lawmakers these days. Federal courts have already stopped similar programs in Florida and Michigan.

And it is very unlikely to identify many drug users. A report this week from the N.C. Justice Center pointed out that before the courts put an end to the mandatory screening in Florida, the state found that just 2.6 percent of benefit applicants failed the drug tests. That is less than the rate of drug use in the general population.

Despite the claims otherwise on the Senate floor Monday night, the legislation is not really about identifying people with drug problems who are applying for benefits to help them find treatment. It is about preventing people from receiving benefits in the first place by making them pay up to $100 for the drug test they must take when they apply.

It’s not hard to see how that works. People who are unable to make ends meet and decide to seek temporary help for their families must come up with $100 before they can apply. If there are other adults in the household, they all must be drug tested too.

They simply will not be able to afford it. And of course the majority of folks helped by public assistance are children. It’s not clear in the illogic of the Senate why they would want to punish poor children because their parents cannot afford to pay for a drug test, but that’s the effect of their mean-spirited and punitive proposal.

Senator Gladys Robinson offered an amendment during the debate that would have required legislators and the governor to take a drug test. They receive public money after all. Senate Rules Chair Tom Apodaca used a parliamentary maneuver to prevent a vote on that idea, lawmakers being above that sort of thing.

It’s not the first time the comfortable senators have voted to make life harder for folks in their districts. They have already denied emergency unemployment benefits to 170,000 people out of work through no fault of their own and denied health care to 500,000 low-income people by refusing to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.

Those are the very people who will now have to find $100 to pay for a drug test that lawmaker themselves are refusing to take.

The wise and all-knowing senators also decided to tell the people of Wake County how their school board will be elected because you can’t let communities have any say about how their local schools are governed. That would never do.

Senator Neal Hunt defended his bill that would change school board election dates and redraw the board districts by saying that it would increase the turnout in the elections. That doesn’t explain why Hunt also redraws the districts. That has nothing to do with turnout. It’s all about helping Republicans regain control of the board they lost in 2011.

Hunt didn’t mention that the current districts were drawn by Republican lawyer Kieran Shanahan who was hired by the then Republican majority on the board. Shanahan is currently the Secretary of Public Safety in the administration of Republican Governor Pat McCrory.

Apparently the districts were not quite Republican enough, so Senator Hunt and his Republican Senate colleagues are trying again, imposing the will of the state Senate on the people in Wake County by deciding their elections for them.

They know better for citizens of Wake County and they know better for kids whose parents need some help making ends meet. They know better for everybody. Just sit down and be quiet.