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North Carolina governor vetoes drug tests for some welfare seekers

By Karen Brooks

(Reuters) - North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory vetoed legislation on Thursday that would have required some recipients of cash welfare benefits to undergo drug screenings, calling it a financial boondoggle that had proven ineffective in other states.

"This is not a smart way to combat drug abuse," McCrory, a Republican, said in a statement. "Similar efforts in other states have proved to be expensive for taxpayers and did little to actually help fight drug addiction. It makes no sense to repeat those mistakes in North Carolina."

The legislation, championed by conservatives in legislatures across the United States, would have required certain applicants for benefits from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to undergo a drug screen.

The measure is touted as a way to keep drug abusers from milking a taxpayer-supported system, but opposed by some Democrats who call it an unfair indictment of impoverished families.

The bill also included a state prohibition on cash benefits to felony fugitives and probation or parole violators.

McCrory reinstated that portion of the bill, which ensures compliance with similar federal rules, through an executive order because he does not have line-item veto powers.

The Republican author of the bill expressed disappointment with the veto, saying he had worked hard to pass it with bipartisan support.

The legislation, which did not include recipients of food stamps and protected the children of denied applicants from being refused help, passed the House with the support of about half that chamber's Democrats, said Representative Dean Arp, R-Union, the bill's author. It also won the support of two-thirds of the Senate Democrats, Arp said.

Supporters of the bill want to ensure the cash benefits distributed through the program do not support drug abusers, who would be offered treatment opportunities if they fail the screening, Arp said.

"Our system of welfare aid to people in need must be effective, efficient and accountable," he said, adding that supporters were still considering how to move forward, including whether to try and override the veto.

Republicans took control of the North Carolina legislature in 2010 for the first time in more than a century, and have used that new power to pass a package of conservative legislation this session, including anti-abortion bills and some of strictest new voting laws in the nation.

Similar laws regarding the testing of TANF applicants have been proposed in at least 29 states this year, and are already on the books in at least eight, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Some laws require tests for all recipients, while others would only require it for applicants suspected of being drug users.

The states that have passed such laws are Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah, according to NCSL.

Legislation in Texas was shut down minutes before its final passage after a protest by Democrats earlier this year. The law in Florida has been halted by the courts because, among other things, it does not protect children in families with substance abuse problems. Supporters in Florida have vowed to take that fight to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

In Tennessee, lawmakers have directed the state's human services agency to create a plan for testing recipients suspected of drug abuse by 2014, according to NCSL.

(Editing by Andre Grenon)

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