Protecting the investment

Published 10:21 pm Wednesday, February 1, 2012

With Republicans in control of Virginia’s House of Delegates and holding the tiebreaking vote in the split Senate, Virginians are hearing a lot of conservative ideas coming from this year’s General Assembly session in Richmond. From the controversial HPV-vaccine requirement for sixth-grade girls to requiring pregnant women to get sonograms, the conservative social agenda is commanding attention from legislators and their constituents.

But Republicans haven’t limited their legislative push to social issues. Economic matters also have come under conservative scrutiny since the Assembly session began in January. Virginia’s existence as a right-to-work state and a move to expand reimbursement to businesses harmed by government projects are two examples of how conservative legislators are working to reshape the commonwealth’s economic landscape.

One bill making its way through the House of Delegates brings together Republicans’ social and economic agendas in a way that invites the public to draw clear distinctions between their own policies and those of their liberal counterparts. That legislation, House Bill 73, calls for mandatory drug testing of people who receive government funds through the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. Those recipients who fail the tests would be barred from receiving welfare payments. They would receive substance abuse treatment, and aid for their children would be alternatively provided.

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Drug testing is a way of life for people in America’s armed services, for firefighters and other public servants and for many folks in the private sector. It’s not a highlight of the job for any of those folks, and it feels like a distasteful invasion of privacy for many of them. Still, it’s part of the sacrifice they make to serve the nation or to work in any number of private industries. The liberal complaint that the new law would represent an invasion of privacy for those who are subject to it will not carry much water with these folks.

Clearly there are people who need help to survive, and there will always be a government role in helping them to do so, no matter which party controls the statehouse. Those aid recipients, however, do not have the right to expect government handouts to come without any strings attached. Under current law, they are required, for instance, to prove they’ve made 30 job-search contacts a week in order to continue receiving their benefits. Stipulating that they also prove they’re drug-free is an appropriate way to protect taxpayers’ investment into the lives of aid recipients, and it’s good training for those recipients’ entry into the workforce.

The General Assembly should pass this bill, and the governor should sign it.