Pubdate: Wed, 10 Dec 2014
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Column: Higher Ground
Copyright: 2014 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Michael Jackman


Test the Legislature first

Legislators sometimes make fun of a law by calling it "a solution in 
search of a problem." More often than not, these are proposals fueled 
by ideological bias rather than the facts, such as the "voter ID" 
bills intended to battle "voter fraud" - an almost nonexistent 
problem. (But if it should happen to stop even a small percentage7 of 
voters who support the Democratic Party, so much the better for the GOP.)

Same goes with the idea of drug-testing welfare recipients, which 
Lansing's lame-duck session approved last week. You remember welfare 
recipients, of course. They're those single mothers driving around 
next year's Cadillacs and pooping out another baby every 10 months to 
fill up with Faygo on their Bridge cards. Or at least that's what 
many opposed to welfare would have you believe. Welfare costs money, 
dammit. And that money should be going to tax breaks for our job 
creators, or something like that. Any measure that can be dreamed up 
that might harass welfare recipients, in this context, is worth 
considering. Even if it costs more money to do so. And even if the 
problem it purports to solve doesn't appear to exist!

The practice of testing people for drugs before they can receive 
public benefits is fundamentally flawed. Don't just take our word for 
it. The American Civil Liberties Union calls the practice 
"unconstitutional, scientifically unsound, fiscally irresponsible, 
and one more way the 'War on Drugs' is an unfair war on America's 
most vulnerable populations."

For examples of this, take a look at states that have implemented 
drug testing for welfare recipients. Tennessee discovered this year 
that less than 1 percent of welfare applicants use drugs. (It was 
0.12 percent, to be exact, compared to the 8 percent of Tennesseans 
who use illegal drugs.) Utah spent about $30,000 on testing only to 
find that just 12 of 4,730 (that's one-quarter of 1 percent) welfare 
applicants tested positive for drugs. Those rates were higher in 
Florida, at 2.6 percent of applicants, but administering the program 
cost more than denying benefits saved, and the initiative was finally 
ended as a violation of the Fourth Amendment. In Virginia, a similar 
program was tossed because it would cost about $1.5 million to 
implement and would save less than one-fifth of that amount in 
benefits not distributed.

If you need further evidence that this is a stupid idea, look at the 
company Michigan is in: This year, only two other states, Mississippi 
and Alabama, have enacted such legislation. Clearly, Lansing is 
determined to take the Great Lakes State and cement its new identity 
as "Michissippi."

The truth is that these laws are designed to harass poor people who 
need help, and are based on prejudices that those who need help must 
be irresponsible in the first place. What's being uncovered, however, 
is that the poor are much more law-abiding than the very people so 
eager to make demands of them. Underlying this campaign to jerk the 
safety net out from under those who need it is a snide moral attitude 
that permeates today's politics - that the poor are less deserving of 
the benefits we all should share in the world's richest country. And 
if it happens to breathe a bit of rhetorical life into the failed War 
on Drugs, it can only make drug war zealots like Attorney General 
Bill Schuette cluck with pleasure.

There is one way we would consider this sort of law a good one, and 
that is if it were really fair. Everybody who benefits from the state 
should probably take a drug test. That means if you're an executive 
or serving on the board of directors of a company that receives a tax 
break from the state of Michigan, you should be tested for drugs. 
Preferably a hair or nail test.

While we're at it, how about some drug testing for the people serving 
in the legislature themselves? After all, where there's a high moral 
tone, can hypocrisy be far behind? Take a look at the tight spot 
former U.S. Rep. Trey Radel found himself in recently; after 
proposing states be allowed to drug test those receiving benefits, he 
was busted and convicted on a cocaine charge.

Furthermore, if our solons in Lansing are proposing an idea that is a 
waste of money that attempts to solve a nonexistent problem, can you 
imagine what they must be smoking? We'd like to try some of that too!
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom