Drug testing legislators is bad policy

Despite the march toward privacy, Minnesota is moving the wrong way.

Daily Editorial Board

Amid the debate on drug testing as a prerequisite to receive welfare benefits, the Minnesota House of Representatives adopted an amendment to the Health and Human Services budget that would require mandatory drug testing for state legislators.

When an amendment was proposed to require mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients, instead of rejecting the amendment on the grounds that such tests are racially discriminatory and motivated, a waste of money and an invasion of privacy, Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, responded with an argument that parity was necessary and that if such a program were implemented, state legislators should be forced to undergo drug screening as well. The amendment she offered to that effect passed overwhelmingly.

While state legislators are certainly public figures and therefore subject to a lower expectation of privacy, the message such strong support gives erodes the notion that one’s body is inherently private and free from state interference. 

Second, drug testing welfare recipients in other states has proved to cost more money than the state saves. Florida spent $118,140 to reimburse people for drug testing costs and lost a total of $45,780 after factoring in the savings from those who failed such tests. 

Although smaller in scale, surely the Minnesota Legislature will see an even poorer return on their investment — wasting valuable taxpayer dollars in a budget that cuts $150 million.

Finally, it is ultimately up to the voters to decide the qualifications necessary of their representatives. If voters in certain districts wish to ensure that their representative is drug-free, it should be the responsibility of the candidates to undergo such screening at the expense of their campaign, not the taxpayers of the rest of the state.

The Health and Human Services budget passed the House and will go to conference committee with the Senate. Senators should work to protect Minnesotans’ privacy from the implications and insinuations of this amendment.