Senator Picks on Low-Income Families

Tom Campbell

As we’ve seen in other states, North Dakota is now debating whether or not to mandate drug testing people on temporary assistance (TANF) to determine eligibility. The bill was introduced by Senator Tom Campbell to the Senate Human Services Committee. On Tuesday, the committee recommended a “Do Pass” by a vote of 4-3.

Senate Bill 2279 would create another unfunded mandate from the state onto the counties. It is County Social Services where eligibility for this program is administered. The fiscal note accompanying the bill says the impact on the counties is “undeterminable” which is only part of the reason the County Directors from across the state testified in opposition.

Any responsibilities added to the county social services due to implementation of this bill are not included in the county social service financing formula – Department of Human Services

In other words, the state isn’t picking up the tab. Where do you suspect the money will come from if this bill is passed? Your property taxes that fund the county.

The bill also requires if someone tests positive for a drug in their system they are to be referred to treatment. Noble, but the question then becomes; what treatment? One of the biggest challenges we’ve been trying to address is the lack of accessible treatment options in the state. How are we going to push people into something that doesn’t currently exist? And just because someone has a drug in their system does not necessarily mean they have a substance abuse problem that requires treatment. Now Campbell is introducing a mandate that may further delay access to those that actually need help.

If it is about people utilizing tax dollars than add legislators to the drug testing requirement. Don’t forget, we not only pay their salary but also their travel, lodging, and insurance. What would be the harm in the 141 members of the Legislature undertaking the same testing? I doubt it would add much to the fiscal impact.

Let’s get to the real reason Campbell introduced drug testing low-income mothers and children who receive assistance. It isn’t about those families; it is about Campbell and his political aspirations. The bill is more of an ideological crusade than about solving a problem. Campbell has already declared he intends to run against Heidi Heitkamp. That is, now that Kevin Cramer didn’t get an appointment in the Trump administration meaning the Congressional seat is not an open race. He, along with Rep. Rick Becker, are using the 65th Legislative Session as a megaphone to declare just how “fiscally conservative” they are as they try to lock down delegates to the next NDGOP convention.

This isn’t the first time Campbell dipped his toe in the waters of statewide politics. In 2015, he flirted with the idea of running for Governor after Dalrymple announced he would not seek reelection. Then, in November of 2015 he actually held a press conference telling the people of North Dakota he decided against running for Governor. The people of North Dakota collectively responded with, “Who the hell is Tom Campbell?”

Now, to elevate his profile for 2018 and show he is real tough, Campbell has picked a fight with low-income families. A fight that will cost you, the taxpayer and property owner money. If Campbell continues to pursue passage of this unfunded mandate we can officially say he is a “fiscal conservative” in name only.

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