Pubdate: Tue, 30 Aug 2011
Source: USA Today (US)
Copyright: 2011 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Author: DeWayne Wickham


During his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Rick Scott promised to keep
drug abusers off Florida's welfare rolls.

Scott, who called for drug testing of welfare applicants with Elmer
Gantry-like fervor and credibility while on the stump, got his way
earlier this year when the state's GOP-dominated legislature passed a
law requiring such examinations.

"Studies show that people that are on welfare are higher users of
(illegal) drugs than people not on welfare," the Florida governor said
on CNN shortly before the law took effect in July. While there are
also studies that dispute Scott's contention, his push for drug
testing has inspired copycat efforts in at least 26 other states.

His scheme has also hit an unexpected snag. So far, just 2% of
Florida's welfare applicants have tested positive for illegal drug
use; another 2% failed to complete the application process; and 96%
were found to be drug-free. While every applicant is required to pay
for their drug test, the state must reimburse those who pass.

Takes the Fifth

Even so, Scott -- who invoked his Fifth Amendment right against
self-incrimination 75 times during a 2000 civil suit brought against
him and Columbia/HCA, the troubled company he led -- has shown no
misgivings about treating poor Floridians like criminals. That's what
happens when ideology overtakes good sense. Scott's drug-testing
program, like those championed in other states, is part of a
right-wing effort to reduce the size and role of government. It is a
fishing expedition to find a reason to cut the welfare rolls. It is
premised on the hunch that women with children who are destitute
enough to ask a state for temporary cash assistance are more inclined
than others to abuse drugs. Ironically, as unemployment rose during
the current economic downturn, the number of people receiving welfare
was "at or near the lowest in more than 40 years," The New York
Timesreported in 2009.

Florida's law offers poor mothers with needy children no "Fifth
Amendment" opportunity to avoid being tested for illegal drug use. It
gives those found to be drug users no chance to enter a drug treatment
program to keep from being denied the financial assistance they need
for their children. So, in essence, Florida's law punishes children
for the sins of their parent.

What about the children?

Scott says his law is meant to prevent the misuse of taxpayers' money.
But he makes no allowance for the fate of those needy children to whom
it denies welfare assistance. Drug testing not based on reasonable
suspicion smacks of an unconstitutional search, the kind of government
intrusion upon an individual's rights that conservatives ought to rail

But Scott's assault on welfare mothers plays to the right-wing
argument that big government is the playground of left-wing radicals --
and a crutch for shiftless people. Scott rode this position to victory
in the governor's race in the Sunshine State, which will be a key
battleground in next year's presidential election. By treating mothers
who apply for welfare benefits as a criminal class who must disprove a
suspicion of drug abuse before obtaining badly needed support, Scott
panders to the soft bigotry of class warfare.

And he becomes an integral part of the rot that is eating away at this
nation's body politic. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.