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Plans to drug test welfare recipients get momentum

Saturday, February 25, 2012

In this Feb. 15, 2012 photo, Speaker of the Wyoming House of Representatives Ed Buchanan listens to debate during 61st Wyoming Legislature in Cheyenne, Wy. A bill to require drug testing for some state welfare recipients has received preliminary approval in the Wyoming House of Representatives.
(AP Photo/The Wyoming Tribune Eagle, Michael Smith)
CHEYENNE, Wyo. (AP) -- Conservatives who say welfare recipients should have to pass a drug test to receive government assistance have momentum on their side.

The issue has come up in the Republican presidential campaign, with front-runner Mitt Romney saying it's an "excellent idea."

Nearly two dozen states are considering plans this session that would make drug testing mandatory for welfare recipients, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. And Wyoming lawmakers advanced such a proposal this week.

Driving the measures is a perception that people on public assistance are misusing the funds and that cutting off their benefits would save money for tight state budgets -- even as statistics have largely proved both notions untrue.

"The idea, from Joe Taxpayer is, 'I don't mind helping you out, but you need to show that you're looking for work, or better yet that you're employed, and that you're drug and alcohol free,'" said Wyoming Republican House Speaker Ed Buchanan on Friday.

Supporters are pushing the measures despite warnings from opponents that courts have struck down similar programs, ruling that the plans amount to an unconstitutional search of people who have done nothing more than seek help.

"This legislation assumes suspicion on this group of people. It assumes that they're drug abusers," said Wyoming Democratic Rep. Patrick Goggles during a heated debate on the measure late Thursday.

The proposals aren't new, according to the NCSL. About three dozen states have taken up such measures over the years.

But as lawmakers seek new ways to fight off the effect of the recession on state budgets and Republican politics dominate the national discussion as the party seeks a presidential nominee, the idea has sparked political debates across the nation.

This year conservative lawmakers in 23 states from Wyoming to Mississippi -- where lawmakers want random screening to include nicotine tests -- are moving forward with proposals of their own.

Romney, in an interview this month in Georgia, supported the idea. "People who are receiving welfare benefits, government benefits, we should make sure they're not using those benefits to pay for drugs," Romney said to WXIA-TV in Atlanta.

Newt Gingrich addressed the topic with Yahoo News in November, saying he considered testing as a way to curb drug use and lower related costs to public programs.

"It could be through testing before you get any kind of federal aid -- unemployment compensation, food stamps, you name it," he said.

In Idaho, budget analysts last year concluded that such a program would cost more money than it would save, prompting lawmakers to ditch the idea.

Also, recent federal statistics indicate that welfare recipients are no more likely to abuse drugs than the general population.

Data show that about 8 percent of the population uses drugs. And before a random drug testing program in Michigan was put on hold by a court challenge, about 8 percent of its public assistance applicants tested positive.

In years past such legal challenges had a chilling effect on state legislatures, but that seems to have thawed.

Michigan's program was halted after five weeks in 1999, eventually ending with an appeals court ruling that it was unconstitutional.

For more than a decade, no other state moved to implement such a law.

"The biggest piece that has held up action now and in the past are the constitutional questions," said Rochelle Finzel, the Children and Families Program manager at the NCSL.

But Florida last year passed legislation that was eventually halted by a federal court ruling that cited constitutional concerns.

Finzel said some states are trying to avoid court challenges by requiring drug tests only in cases where there's reasonable cause to believe there's substance abuse, instead of requiring everyone to take a test.

Missouri took that approach in passing a law last year that hasn't gotten tied up in court, but which has touched off an attempt at political one-upsmanship from a House Republican who introduced a bill this month that would require his colleagues at the state Capitol to take and pass the same test.

In Wyoming, the Republican-controlled state House handily approved a welfare drug testing bill after a fiery debate Thursday. The plan sailed through a second vote Friday and needs only one more reading before heading to the solidly-conservative state Senate, where a key leader supports the concept.

In Colorado, a testing plan is expected to fail because Democrats who oppose it control the state Senate -- but Republicans have succeeded in starting a conversation on the issue.

"If you can afford to buy drugs, and use drugs, you don't need" welfare, said Republican Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, who is sponsoring a bill this session.

Sonnenberg said his bill also seeks to help drug users get clean because applicants must complete rehab to qualify for government aid again.

Sonnenberg's critics said the idea feeds off the negative -- and unsubstantiated -- stereotype that low-income communities are more likely to use drugs. Sonnenberg said he's not picking on any group, and pointed out that the legislation would likely have a narrow effect.

"The five percent, or the four percent, or whatever that percentage is that is on drugs, will have a choice to make. They will either do what they can to get clean, or not have their (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) funds," he said.

In Wyoming, Republican Rep. Frank Peasley, a co-sponsor of the testing bill, said the measure is an effort to rein in a welfare system run amok.

"We are going broke," he said,

But Linda Burt, director of the ACLU in Wyoming, said this week it's possible her group would challenge the testing program if it's adopted in Wyoming.

"We challenged it in Michigan. We challenged it in Florida. Both of those cases found that singling out this particular group of people for drug testing was unconstitutional with absolutely no cause."


Associated Press writer Ivan Moreno contributed reporting from Denver.

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This is a great idea. Why should us hard working tax payers give out free money to dead beats, drug users, and people who don't want to use the money for anything else but drugs. Also if you receive welfare and you are one of those that isn't a drug users you shouldn't get all upset about getting drug tested. A few extra minutes of your time should be worth getting your money or if you have a problem with it then opt out of no longer getting that FREE MONEY!

-- Posted by Jax12 on Sat, Feb 25, 2012, at 7:57 AM

They need to go to work and stop mooching off of the tax payers that work each and every day. Do something earn a real pay check by working instead of depending on the government taking care of you all the time. Be part of society help contribute re-building our great nation. "ASK NOT WHAT YOUR COUNTRY CAN DO FOR YOU BUT ASK WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR COUNTRY".

-- Posted by swampeastmissouri on Sat, Feb 25, 2012, at 8:12 AM

Funny! the worst abusers of tax payers money is the ones who intend to pass this ridiculous and costly legislation! Until they submit to a drug test, they should keep their ignorant ideas to themselves. Those of you who think this testing will be free are being completely ignorant to the facts. Like I have said, you conservatives are indeed for bigger Government and, you certainly have that "spend and spend some more attitude". The word Hypocrites define many of you that is for sure. I suggest you two read the Constitution.

This legislation is one sided and absolutely unconstitutional period. You republicans sure have offered up a bunch of absolute idiots to run for the White house as well as State representatives. Seems these idiots would even have them tested for a legal substance such as nicotine. Jeez, Am I the only one who sees through this crap! Let's just toss the Constitution and Bill Of Rights out of existance because too many of you could care less about your rights and civil liberties. What's next? Shall we test all of them for obesity? Test them first! or shut TFU!! Sorry for the colorful language but folks who support this have no respect for our Bill of Rights and Constitution. How sad!

-- Posted by GREYWOLF on Sat, Feb 25, 2012, at 8:54 AM

2% of welfare recipients in Florida tested positive.... 2 PERCENT!

Seems like a good waste of money to me.

But since we're testing anyone who wants to be paid by the government, then it only makes sense to test EVERY elected official who is paid with our taxes.

Kinda funny how everytime someone amends one of these welfare drug testing bills, to include the elected officials, they yank the bill out before it can go to a vote.

Wonder why....

-- Posted by the_eye on Sat, Feb 25, 2012, at 9:30 AM

Swampeast, I agree with your statement. You said, "They need to go to work and stop mooching off of the tax payers that work each and every day. Do something earn a real pay check by working! Yes indeed this certainly defines the legislators and lawmakers in this Country. Yep, I could not agree more. Welfare is not a lifetime free pass any longer. There is a time limit. I wonder if some of you confuse welfare with SSDI and or SS. I certainly hope not.

-- Posted by GREYWOLF on Sat, Feb 25, 2012, at 10:01 AM

We also need HUD reform.

-- Posted by 314djhh on Sat, Feb 25, 2012, at 1:44 PM

I think any person receiving taxpayer money should have to take random drug testing. Politicians, teachers, welfare recipients, judges, you name it. It is "my" money!

-- Posted by RapDaddyDon on Sat, Feb 25, 2012, at 2:33 PM

I agree with RapDaddyDon

-- Posted by Make no mistake about it on Sat, Feb 25, 2012, at 5:52 PM

Yes, let's waste money testing the 2%. AND where are the frigging jobs?????????????????????????

-- Posted by Dexterite1 on Sun, Feb 26, 2012, at 6:43 AM

At every job I have had, I ve been drug tested. At a job you recieve money correct? It should be looked at in this point of view, The people that are looking for assistance are giving a "job" by the goverment to look for an actual real job so that they may better themselfs and thier families. So therefore, they need to be tested also and if for some reason they fail to do that job kick them off. Its my money, I pay it in every week, by God I'll do what the hell I want with it. Thats the point of view this whole conversation about drug testing for welfare should be. Also, I agree with 314djhh, where the hell is the HUD reform. Here in Cape there are many people who recieve HUD and abuse it. They'll rent the house, then rent out a room or the basement or the upstairs to someone for so much money while recieving HUD! Thats our tax money people!! There needs to be a welfare reform, HUD reform, and a congress reform!

-- Posted by oldschool_651 on Sun, Feb 26, 2012, at 10:34 AM

I was in the military- we were paid with tax money, and we ALL were subject to frequent urinalysis. So please stop your bleeding hearts for one of many groups who are bleeding this country dry. That being said Yes, the politicians are in the same boat in my book and should also be subject to the same requirements.

-- Posted by hugo on Tue, Feb 28, 2012, at 9:41 AM

I find myself at odds with almost all of my friends and family and oppose drug testing of welfare recipients. I have been drug tested many times as a condition of my employment and accept it can be necessary in some professions, I just don't see the point for welfare recipients.

Drug tests are extremely easy to beat.


-- Posted by 356 on Wed, Feb 29, 2012, at 3:15 PM

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