Welfare and drugs

Three state lawmakers wrongly proposed legislation seeking to randomly test welfare recipients for drugs.

WhatâÄôs most disturbing about legislation proposed in MinnesotaâÄôs Capitol seeking to force certain welfare recipients to undergo random drug tests is not that its language is unconstitutional. Nor does it disturb us the most that a law targeting welfare recipients is downright inequitable and unworkable policy. The thought that disturbs us the most is that âÄî in the face of the aforementioned flaws and almost a certainty that their bills wonâÄôt pass the DFL-dominated Legislature âÄî three of MinnesotaâÄôs elected representatives actually wasted taxpayer money and time in suggesting the legislation. The companion House and Senate legislation, HF 1381 and SF 1261 , state that eligibility for the Minnesota Family Investment Program, a nationally-esteemed state welfare program that helps low-income parents find work, requires drug screening âÄî possibly at random. Seven other states are considering similar legislation, and proponents posit that since job applicants must generally undergo drug tests, why shouldnâÄôt welfare recipients? Our short answer is because a U.S. Appeals Court ruling held a comparable law in Michigan violated the Fourth AmendmentâÄôs protection against unreasonable searches. That courtâÄôs 2003 opinion correctly argued the slope is slippery: if the state can randomly administer drug tests to welfare recipients, it should be able to do the same for parents who send their children to a public school. Beyond that, random drug testing for recipients of a successful welfare program does more harm than good. People who test positively arenâÄôt necessarily drug abusers. For those who are, feeding addiction isnâÄôt much of a choice and cutting an addict off of state assistance might push him or her into crime. Besides, the MFIP already subjects recipients with drug convictions to certain restrictions, including drug tests in extreme cases. Indeed, we wonder what exactly this legislation is trying to accomplish. Most states have already figured out similar proposals are impractical. By the time of the 2003 U.S. Appeals Court ruling, 17 states rejected testing welfare recipients for drugs because of cost concerns and 21 concluded such legislation might be unlawful. So what we are left with are three Republican lawmakers in red districts proposing ineffectual legislation âÄî which they should know has little chance of passing âÄî unduly targeting the downtrodden. This is political pandering at its worst.