Pubdate: Sat, 19 Oct 2002
Source: Detroit Free Press (MI)
Contact:  2002 Detroit Free Press
Author: Kim North Shine, Free Press Staff Writer
Bookmark: (Drug Testing)
Note: Staff writer Dawson Bell contributed to this report.


Michigan Can Deny Benefits To Those Who Fail 

The state can rightfully deny benefits to welfare recipients who test
positive for illegal drugs, according to a federal court decision released

A three-judge panel of the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals said Michigan's
use of mandatory testing to determine eligibility for public aid is neither
an invasion of privacy nor an infringement on constitutional protection from
unreasonable search and seizure. 

The random testing is a justified technique for protecting children, the
public and tax dollars from abuse, the court said. 

The decision overturns a November 1999 injunction granted by U.S. District
Judge Victoria Roberts, who deemed the drug testing "likely
unconstitutional" and ordered it halted immediately. 

State officials said Friday they were reviewing what steps to take to revive
the program, which was being used on a pilot basis in a few areas before
Roberts' ruling. Before the legal challenge, the state's plan was to expand
the program to every Michigan county by 2003. 

Both gubernatorial candidates, Republican Lt. Gov. Dick Posthumus and
Democratic Attorney General Jennifer Granholm, said they would implement the
program if elected in November. The winner will take office in January. 

While Granholm in the past has described the program as "degrading and
demeaning," her spokesman Chris DeWitt said she would not seek to change it. 

Posthumus sees the testing as a means to get welfare recipients out of the
"cycle of dependence." 

Gov. John Engler hailed the ruling. 

"We know that drugs are a significant barrier to employment, and testing and
treatment for welfare recipients for drug use is consistent with our goal of
helping them reach true self-suffiency," Engler said in a statement. 

The director of the Family Independence Agency, which administers the
program, echoed Engler's sentiments. 

"I am pleased that the court has returned our ability to address this
barrier to job placement and retention," FIA Director Doug Howard said.
"This approach is the right thing to do to support our customers entering
the workforce." 

The ACLU of Michigan promised to appeal the decision and decried it as a
threat to personal freedom. 

The appeals judges -- Alice Batchelder, Richard Suhrheinrich and Eugene
Siler Jr. -- said in their ruling issued in Cincinnati that such testing can
protect children from drug-abusing parents who might neglect or otherwise
harm them. 

The report also said the program seeks to ensure public money goes to needy
families, not to support drug habits. 

The court's reasoning is flawed because it assumes welfare recipients are
more likely to be drug users than the general population, said Wendy
Wagenheim of the ACLU. 

"It's already humiliating to be on welfare. This is just more humiliating,"
she said. 

The judges said the state has taken steps to prevent the testing from being
unduly intrusive. 

Subjects take the test privately. Only key personnel are privy to the
results. Positive tests are not reported to police. 

Under the program, 20 percent of welfare recipients are randomly tested
every six months. An individual who tests positive must undergo treatment.
Welfare benefits can be denied for refusing to test or obtain treatment. 

In the time that the pilot project was operating in 1999, drug use was found
among 10 percent of welfare recipients. 

The program was halted in its fifth week in west Detroit and in Alpena,
Presque Isle and Berrien counties. 

Michigan is believed to the first state to enact drug testing under
congressional welfare reforms in 1996 that allowed states to experiment with
new programs to cut welfare rolls. 

Michigan has 68,761 names on its welfare rolls today -- 90 percent fewer
than in 1994, said FIA spokeswoman Maureen Sorbet. 

Michigan's program is being watched closely by other states considering drug
testing for welfare recipients. 

The ACLU of Michigan, which leveled the original legal challenge, warns that
similar thinking could threaten anyone participating in government-supported

"Our concern is this can really open up the door to uncontrolled government
surveillance in every aspect of our lives," the ACLU's Kary Moss said. "What
about students who take out student loans or taxpayers who take deductions?" 

The ACLU will request that the entire appeals court hear the case. 

"We see the Fourth Amendment being whittled away," Moss said. 

Robert Sedler, a Wayne State University law professor who argued on behalf
of the ACLU and welfare recipients Tanya Marchwinski and Terri Konieczny,
said the reversal was not a surprise. The three judges were all appointed by
former President George Bush. 

Many private and public employers require job applicants to pass drug tests
before they can be hired. Some employers also require tests for existing
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