Setting Aside All That Small Stuff

By Scott Mooneyham | Apr 17, 2013

RALEIGH — For several years now, conservative legislatures around the country have  been putting more scrutiny on recipients of government assistance.

It was only a matter of time before North Carolina's conservative legislature attempted to do the same here.

Still, no one should be surprised when critics question just where this kind of scrutiny should stop.

So it was the other day when Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat, attempted to derail legislation that would have welfare recipients undergo criminal background checks.

As the legislation was being debated on the House floor, Luebke attempted what in legislative parlance is known as a "catfish amendment," as in take the bill down to the bottom of the river and drown it.

Luebke figured if one kind welfare recipient should be included, then why not another. He wanted to amend the legislation to put business executives who receive business recruiting incentives under the same scrutiny.

Before he could have too much fun, House Speaker Thom Tillis ruled the amendment out of order, saying it was not germane to the legislation. Whether it was good luck or that the move had been anticipated, the bill's title was so specific that it made Tillis' job dispatching with Luebke pretty easy.

Meanwhile, over in the Senate, a committee debated legislation that would subject welfare recipients to drug testing. It also would require those on welfare to foot the bill, only being reimbursed if they pass the test.

Opponents predicted court challenges and wondered whether legislators receiving tax dollars should be included in the drug testing. (I have no idea where they got the idea, as no smart-alecky columnists would ever suggest such a thing.)

One senator lamented "bickering over small stuff" when people are dying of drug abuse.

Some of that small stuff apparently includes who pays when the drug tests come back clean. The legislation includes no money for the testing, which is likely to cost at least a few million dollars.

And if it is small stuff, maybe Luebke is right. After all, shouldn't government care just as much about saving the lives of big powerful corporate executives as it does about those on food stamps?

With the state entrusting some of them with millions of tax dollars, not just a few hundred at a time, maybe lawmakers should be more concerned about whether their decision-making could be impaired with illicit drugs.

And if legislators are, in fact, taking on the "big stuff," do we want them doing so without ensuring that they are thinking clearly?

As a man once suggested to Tillis during a town hall meeting, maybe all state government workers ought to be drug tested.

Of course, the man may not have recognized that state workers is a pretty broad category. It includes the governor, the justices of the Supreme Court, the chancellors at the public universities.

But that's really only small stuff, right?

Let's get on to the big stuff.