Early one morning recently, while waiting in line at a convenience store, I witnessed something very troubling. The young person ahead of me in line, who was in her pajamas, pulled out an EBT card and used it to buy lottery tickets. She made no other purchases.

All I could think about was the cashier, who was nearing retirement age, who had to get up at 4 o’clock in the morning to begin her shift, working hard to make ends meet while someone she is supporting with her tax dollars makes her hand over lottery tickets.

My mind began to wander. Will this young lady win anything? If she does, will she share the winnings with the taxpayers who funded the purchase?

A similar scene plays out over and over again, every day throughout the state of Maine, and all of us have either witnessed it directly or at least heard about it: someone abusing their taxpayer-funded welfare benefits. Recently, an investigation revealed that Maine EBT cards were being used outside of the state of Maine, even in places like Disneyworld and Las Vegas. It’s no wonder people are fed up with this gaming of the system.

During the previous legislative session, Republicans in the Legislature tried to pass a series of reasonable, commonsense welfare reform measures. We have been hearing about the need to fix the system for years from frustrated Mainers who play by the rules and go to work every day. Almost to a person, they all tell us the same thing: They are more than willing to help out their fellow citizen who is down on their luck, but they don’t want welfare to be a way of life for those who are capable of being productive.

As President Ronald Reagan once said, “Welfare’s purpose should be to eliminate, as far as possible, the need for its own existence.”

Inexplicably, Democrats, who controlled the Legislature at the time, didn’t see it that way. They rejected or significantly watered down every welfare reform bill that came before them.

The voters of Maine responded by re-electing Gov. Paul LePage, giving Republicans a majority in the Maine Senate and a near majority in the House.

I am very happy to say that we have a new chance to get it right again for the people of Maine. There are more than a half dozen bills in front of lawmakers this legislative session that would, among other things, set limits for how long able-bodied Mainers can receive welfare benefits and establish eligibility requirements for new citizens so that we can ensure Maine residents are our first priority.

I am proud to be the sponsor of a welfare reform bill that:

— Prohibits benefits from being used for tobacco, liquor, gambling, lottery, tattoos and bail.

— Prohibits the use of EBT cards outside of Maine.

— Adds a work search requirement for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families if they are capable of working.

— Imposes penalties, including termination of benefits, for abusers.

When I introduced this legislation at a news conference with Gov. LePage, we were honored to be joined by two young ladies who shared their inspiring stories of their journeys from welfare dependency to independence. They are both mothers who are now gainfully employed and no longer caught in the hopeless cycle of government dependency.

There is an enormous price to be paid by not fixing our welfare system. I have already mentioned the injustice to taxpayers who are subsidizing abuse of the system.

Abuse also comes at the expense of those who are the truly needy in Maine, among them the mentally and physically disabled and the elderly. They are the ones who have to compete with welfare abusers for limited resources within the state budget.

For this reason, we can clearly see that welfare abuse is not, as some have suggested, a victimless crime. We are all victims of it and it is time for the Legislature to finally act on the wishes of the hardworking people of Maine and pass meaningful welfare reform.

Michael Thibodeau, R-Winterport, is president of the Maine Senate.