Sixteen years ago, R.J. Feild was born to a heroin-addicted welfare mother in Southern California. Brought into the world underweight and premature, he has trouble walking, and his bad eyesight makes it hard for him to read. He was, however, able to enter an essay contest sponsored by Assemblyman John Benoit (R-Palm Desert) called “There Oughta Be a Law,” in which the winner’s proposed bill would be brought to the floor of the California legislature. Feild’s essay suggested giving random drug tests to welfare recipients and stripping benefits from people who tested positive.
He won the contest. “You can’t make up this story,” says Assemblyman Benoit. “The beauty of this bill is that it comes from a real-life, lovable young man who’ll the suffer rest of his life for mistakes of his mother. When you see him make this argument, you can’t help be sympathetic to it.”
“R.J.’s Law,” as submitted by Benoit, is actually a little less strict than what the 16-year old proposed. It offers people who fail the drug test a choice between losing their benefits and entering rehab, although if they test positive in rehab they’ll be out of luck. “I live in a political world,” Benoit explains. “We should give these people a chance to walk down the right path. Of course, if they walk off that path, then we can’t help them.”
Benoit’s detractors point out that welfare program managers are already empowered to test recipients if they suspect they’re using drugs. Benoit doesn’t think that’s enough. “The average lady behind a counter is not trained to recognize the symptoms of drug addiction,” he says. “You need occasional random sampling. It works for professional baseball players, it works for the clerks at Wal-Mart, and it will work here.”
R.J.’s Law might not pass the Democrat-dominated legislature, but Benoit is optimistic. He is pondering another “There Oughta be a Law” contest this fall, when kids return to school.