Interview: ND Legislator Talks About Bill To Require Drug Testing For Welfare Recipients


HB1385 was introduced in the North Dakota State legislator earlier this week by Rep. Dennis Johnson. It would require drug testing for all recipients of TANF (welfare) and SNAP (food stamps) assistance. A first offense would deny the recipient benefits for a year. A second offense would deny benefits for three years. The welfare recipient would be responsible for the cost of testing. A positive drug test for a parent would not end benefits for a child. Rather, a third-party recipient for those benefits on behalf of the child would have to be designated.

I interviewed Rep. Johnson about the bill, and he told me he introduced it to start a “conversation” about the topic here in North Dakota.


Other states, most notably Florida, have passed similar legislation. In fact, Rep. Johnson told me he modeled his bill after Florida’s legislation, but Florida has run into some problems with their bill. Critics say that after implementation the program has cost more than it has saved in reduced benefits and it is currently not being enforced due to a challenge in the federal courts.

To the legal question, Johnson says that’s something to worry about after both houses of the legislature has passed it and the governor has signed, noting that the bill will probably be amended significantly before it becomes law. To the cost savings question, Johnson doesn’t so much see this bill as a way to save money by denying people benefits but rather as a way to provide incentive for those who need public assistance to stop their substance abuse.

That’s an interesting way of looking at the bill. Rather than stopping people who need help from getting help, this bill would require as prerequisite a prerequisite to getting benefits that those needing the help stop creating problems for themselves.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Kevin Flanagan

    Old lady Pelosi says welfare helps the economy.

    • Philip Mullen

      welfare, the kind poor people get, DOES help the economy. The kind Conservatives seem to love, for Corporations and such, HURTS everyone

      • Kevin Flanagan

        Compared to the rest of the world, there are no poor people in the USA.

  • Januaryjones

    I wonder what is going on with this in the federal courts?

    • WOOF

      God Bless the ACLU.
      Injunctions against similar bills.
      Winding its way through the circuits.
      It’s legislators we should be testing.

      • leh

        I wouldn’t piss on the aclu if it were on fire!

        • WOOF

          Yet the ACLU would save you when staked to the fire.

  • Captjohn

    Living in Florida I can tell you the vast majority support Gov. Scott’s efforts on this. We should not be paying for illicit drugs with welfare money. If we take the savings when fully implemented and use it for drug rehabilitation we may save a lot of lifes and agony. After all isn’t that the arguement the anti gun people are using. Of course I could be wrong that Meth,Heroin, Cocaine and other substance abusers don’t put their lifes at risk.

    • Rob

      It seems to me that the basic issue is this: If you have money for drugs and alcohol you don’t need public assistance.

      • WOOF

        Decided to volunteer for the War on Drugs that you previously despised?

        • RCND

          No just not subsidize the drug use with our tax dollars

    • WOOF

      Gov Scott is slightly more popular than poison ivy.

      • leh

        You being the expert on FL. As usual, it’s the big cities vs. the rest of the state. The big cities having the most welfare reciepents.

        • WOOF

          Scott has an approval rating of 30%. He so hard up for friends he has presented a bill to give teachers a $2500 raise and he hates teachers. People live in cities, the rest of the state is in trailers fighting off pythons, alligators and 9 foot Nile Monitor Lizards hiding under their cars on cinder blocks .

    • realitybasedbob

      Welfare drug-testing yields 2% positive results


      Since the state began testing welfare applicants for drugs in July, about 2 percent
      have tested positive, preliminary data shows.

      Ninety-six percent proved to be drug free — leaving the state on the hook to reimburse the cost of their tests.

      • Rob


        It is nice to know that so few recipients in Florida are abusing drugs, and it’s also nice to know that the 2% who are now have a serious incentive to stop.

        • RCND

          Could be they all quit once they saw Uncle Sugar was cutting them off if they peed hot

  • Waski_the_Squirrel

    While I like the sentiment, I worry when a politician is not worried about the actual legality of a law.

    • RCND

      How is it illegal?

  • Mike

    How about covering recipients of needs of corporate welfare, needs-based student loans and scholarships, and home mortgage deduction?

  • Lianne

    not being enforced due to a challenge in the federal courts.

    No one is demanding that a certain member of society become a recipient of TANF and/or SNAP . Anyone who applies for them are agreeing to the demands placed upon them, imho (in my humble opionion)

    • Philip Mullen

      whatever happened to “Due Process”, “needing a warrant for searches and seizures”, “probable cause”, and all those other pesky Constitutional RIGHTS?

  • KJUU

    Unfortunately, it’s not that easy to just stop abusing a substance. Food or a hit? They’ll take the hit. While yes, we need to do something to stop the abuse of the safety net, this really does nothing other than force addicts to find other ways to get food. Like maybe prostitution or selling drugs themselves.

    And is it just for drugs? Not alcohol, a bigger and more pervasive problem in North Dakota, at all economic levels? Hypocritical, I’d say.

    No easy answers.

    • Rob

      If they choose drugs and not help, what else can we do? If they don’t help themselves, how can we possibly help them?

      No, there are no easy answers, but let’s not allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good.

      • WOOF

        Get your Libertarian flag out of the mud. You ready to pay for a blood test when you renew your drivers license, get an overtime parking ticket,
        mail a letter, apply for a mortgage, claim a tax deduction ?

        • Rob

          But we’re not talking about drug testing for any of those things. We’re talking about drug testing before going on the public dole.

          I see it as a sort of means testing. If they have the means to buy drugs, they don’t need public assistance.

          • WOOF

            Camels nose.Fourth Ammendment stuff, it’s an unwarranted search. Less so than your drivers license which in many state coerces you into a drug/alcohol test if the police demand one
            . As far as means go, people on welfare are encouraged to work , some money may be theirs. Drugs may be obtained for free. Alcohlol OK other stuff NO.
            Northstar has reported to State Farm insurance and the Dept of Motor Vehicles that your truck stopped in an area where drug arrests have been made. Report to State Trooper Battalion donotpassGo.

  • Captjohn

    The 2% numbers were preliminary results before the injunction stopped full implementation. Hardly a good test as very few took the test. Gov. Scott has his problems but at least we got rid of the RINO that proceeded him. Charlie Crist joined the ambulance chasers at the Morgan and Morgan law firm and became a liberal Democrat. One of Floridas biggest problems is our judicial system. When Gov. Scott tried to fix parts of it the liberal Democrats, Florida Bar and the ACLU went crazy. Which proves when you try to do the right thing it isn’t always popular.

    • realitybasedbob

      From July through October in Florida — the four months when testing took place before Judge Scriven’s order — 2.6 percent of the state’s cash assistance applicants failed the drug test, or 108 of 4,086, according to the figures from the state obtained by the group. The most common reason was marijuana use. An additional 40 people canceled the tests without taking them.

      That’s a nice sample size, dontcha think?

      It’s wonderful that you brought up ambulance chasers, Capt. Do you recall the last business Scott was in and how it all turned out?

      • Rob

        That’s a tiny sample, boob, and the number is irrelevant.

        • realitybasedbob

          Learn something today, rube.

          This Sample Size Calculator is presented as a public service of Creative Research Systems survey software.

          You can use it to determine how many people you need to interview in
          order to get results that reflect the target population as precisely as
          needed. You can also find the level of precision you have in an
          existing sample.

        • realitybasedbob

          “The most common reason was marijuana use.” You’re in favor of that being legal, isn’t that right, rube?

          • Rob

            I am actually, yes.

            I’m also in favor of alcohol being legal.

            But if alcohol or marijuana shows up in a drug test, the people using it shouldn’t get public assistance. If they have money for those things, they don’t need food stamps.

        • realitybasedbob

          So let’s just wrap up your “position” on this, shall we, rube?

          You’re mad as hell and won’t take it anymore because drug users in Florida are on public assistance, even though the drug most of them are on is a drug you want legalized.

          • Rob

            Wanting the drug to be legal, but thinking people who waste their money on drugs/alcohol they can’t afford shouldn’t get public assistance, are to entirely consistent positions.

            I don’t want to put them in jail for marijuana use. But i don’t want to subsidize their marijuana use (or the use of drugs/alcohol in general) when they expect the taxpayers to feed them.

          • realitybasedbob

            So you’re now a qualified nanny statist?

          • Hal414

            I don’t believe it should be legal but if it were, why tie it to public assistance? Maybe they grew it in their garden.

  • pigpen

    As it was implemented in Florida, it’s highly flawed.

    The worrisome drugs tend to pass out of the users system within a couple of days, things like cocaine, meth, etc. The tests really only catch pot smokers, and….testing positive for pot doesn’t mean that a user spent tax-payer money on pot. Heck, its Friday night, your brother-in-law fires one up, and next thing ya know? No more TANF. Should that preclude someone from receiving assistance? I don’t think it should. Same as if someone has a couple of beers with friends or family: it doesn’t mean that person purchased the alcohol, chipped in, or in any way spent money on it.

    And this cost us how much?! And Mr. Scott previously owned the largest drug-testing business in the state? And moved his controlling interest in the company to be in his wife’s name? C’mon. I want to get elected, and require background checks for super-sized soda purchases, but only after I start a business that measures soda cup sizes, and put it in my wife’s name, and rake in millions. C’mon! Who’s really sucking off the taxpayer’s teat here?

    Working in Virginia in 2011, I was employed in social services. I’m the only semi-conservative social worker in the country, I think, but, anyways: All TANF recipients in my region were required to report for 40 hours of volunteer work weekly….at the county garbage dump. That proved to be a far greater motivator to securing employment and getting off the govt teat than any test for pot, ever….and I don’t think the governor’s wife owned the county garbage dump.