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“Walker Pushing Drug War Testing Scheme”: And He Doesn’t Care That The Courts Say That’s Unconstitutional

According to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, what American employers are really looking for these days is “someone who can pass a drug test.”

Walker made that remark in a question-and-answer session in Washington, D.C., Friday following his remarks at the American Action Forum’s inaugural Fred Malek lecture series, which are named after the GOP powerbroker who served as Richard Nixon’s “Jew counter”). The Wisconsin governor is expected to formally unveil the drug testing proposal in his budget next week.

The imitative would require drug testing for recipients of government benefits like food stamps and Medicaid. Walker says his plan is justified because there are many open jobs waiting for people who can pass drug tests and know “how to show up [for work] everyday five days a week.”

Walker first touted the idea while running for re-election last year, and pledged to “require a drug test for those requesting unemployment and able-bodied, working age adults requesting Food Stamps from the state.” But, sadly for Walker, the plan is almost certainly unconstitutional.

Federal courts have found that laws that require all recipients of welfare benefits to be drug tested violate the 4th Amendment as an unconstitutional search and seizure. However, states have recently passed laws that only require drug tests for those on government assistance for whom there is “a reasonable suspicion” of illegal drug use. This is considered far more likely to pass constitutional muster than blanket drug testing of everyone who applies for public assistance.

Walker did seem aware of these obstacles at the event, describing the pushback from the courts as “a classic example where the federal government pushes back and says you can’t do that.”

But even if Walker does manage to require drug testing for welfare recipients, the plan would likely be quite expensive for taxpayers. Before it was overturned in federal court, Florida’s mandatory drug test law ended up costing the state more money than it saved.

In the meantime, it does make for good political rhetoric. Very few candidates have won election on a platform giving more money to drug addicts. But Walker’s plan is unlikely to turn into effective or lasting legislation.

 

By: Ben Jacobs, The Daily Beast, January 30, 2015

January 31, 2015 Posted by | Drug Testing, Scott Walker, Welfare Recipients | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Ugly Assumptions Driving The Policy”: GOP Governors Recommit To Welfare Drug-Testing Schemes

The Wall Street Journal recently noted that when it comes to welfare recipients, “few” applicants have been caught up in the “drug-screening net.” How few? The piece noted that in Arizona, for example, between 2011 and 2014, over 108,000 people seeking benefits were subjected to drug screen. A grand total of 2 applicants were disqualified due to testing positive.

Note, I don’t mean 2 percent; I mean literally 2 individual people out of 108,408.

In recent years, the idea of imposing drug tests on welfare beneficiaries – which is to say, poor people receiving aid; those who receive corporate welfare benefits are exempt – has become exceedingly popular among many Republicans. The problem for proponents is that the programs keep failing – in practice, in the courts, or both.

And yet, several GOP policymakers just can’t seem to help themselves.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is pushing forward with a plan to make food stamp recipients pass drug tests – a requirement that the Obama administration says violates federal law. […]

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known as FoodShare in Wisconsin), says it’s against the rules for states to require drug testing as a condition of receiving benefits. The federal government could yank administrative funding from states that are out of compliance – a threat the USDA leveled at Georgia over a similar drug testing scheme last year. Georgia backed down.

Walker has been aware of the rule from the start. “We believe that there will potentially be a fight with the federal government and in court,” he told the Journal Sentinel in September.

Indeed, for the ambitious Republican governor, it’s a two-fer – he gets to look “tough” on poor people in advance of his presidential campaign, and at the same time, Walker gets to boast about a big fight with the Obama administration, which will make a nice addition to his presidential stump speech.

Of course, it’s not just Walker. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) recently approved a policy of drug testing welfare recipients, and Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is an enthusiastic supporter of the idea.

The case against the policy is pretty straightforward. It’s legally dubious for states to require poor people to give up bodily fluids in exchange for benefits they’re entitled to; it’s exceedingly expensive to administer the tests; and wherever these policies have been implemented, they’ve failed to produce much of anything in the way of results.

But as we’ve discussed before, perhaps the most striking problem is the ugly assumptions driving the policy itself. For many, especially on the right, it makes sense to assume those who are struggling are to blame for their plight.

If you’re relying on TANF aid to help your family keep its head above water, maybe there’s something wrong with your lifestyle.  If you’ve fallen on hard times and need the public safety net, the state should probably assume you have a drug problem.

Real-world evidence, however, points in a different direction.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 23, 2015

January 26, 2015 Posted by | Drug Testing, GOP, Welfare Recipients | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Court Ends Florida Governor Scott’s Plan On Drug Tests”: Impaired Public Official’s Can Do More Harm Than The Impaired Unemployed

Gov. Rick Scott’s callous and condescending plan to drug-test welfare recipients has been demolished by a federal appeals court.

In a 54-page rebuke, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vigorously upheld a lower court’s ruling that it’s unconstitutional to make welfare applicants undergo warrantless and “suspicionless” drug screens, as mandated in a law championed and signed by Scott.

“The State has failed to establish a demonstrable or peculiar drug-use problem among (welfare applicants),” the three-judge panel said unanimously. “If anything, the evidence extant suggests quite the opposite.”

Scott’s law, it concluded, “offends the Fourth Amendment,” which protects Americans against unreasonable search and seizure.

The opinion was written by Judge Stanley Marcus, not exactly a raging liberal. A former organized-crime prosecutor and U.S. Attorney in Miami, Marcus was nominated for the federal bench by President Ronald Reagan.

Although experts had warned that Florida’s broad drug-testing statute wouldn’t survive a court challenge, Scott and the Republican-led Legislature sanctimoniously charged ahead. Now the state’s clanking legal appeals are costing taxpayers a fortune.

The man who upended the law was Luis W. Lebron, a Navy veteran and college student in Orlando. At the time the ACLU filed suit on Lebron’s behalf, he was the single father of a young child, and was also taking care of his disabled mother.

He’d applied for benefits under a program called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The maximum amount he could have received was about $241 monthly over a cumulative period not to exceed 48 months.

At first Lebron consented to a urine test, but later changed his mind. The Department of Children and Families then said he was ineligible for benefits.

The controversial drug law was in effect less than four months before a court intervened in 2011. The state insisted it had the right to require urine tests (paid for by the applicants themselves) in order to protect their children.

As witnesses it offered a Georgetown University psychiatrist who had done some reading on the subject, and two DCF employees who told anecdotes about possible drug use among TANF recipients.

One of the workers said he had “personally detected the odor of marijuana on applicants.” The other said he often met welfare cases who had slurred speech or bloodshot eyes.

That was basically Scott’s whole case. It was shamefully weak.

Marcus ruled that the state “presented no evidence that children of TANF parents face a danger or harm from drug use that is different from the general threat to all children in all families.”

He pointed to a 2000 study done by DCF itself, called the Demonstration Project. Only 335 out of 6,462 TANF applicants tested positive for drugs.

That trend of relatively low usage was “altogether consistent” with data collected 11 years later, after Scott’s law took effect. Of 4,046 TANF applicants who gave urine samples, a measly 2.67 percent tested positive.

By contrast, the rate for the general population is 9.2 percent, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

About a third of those who started a TANF application didn’t finish it, and never took the drug screen. There’s no way to determine if they were substance users, couldn’t afford the test — or were simply offended by the idea of it.

“Citizens,” wrote Marcus, “do not abandon all hope of privacy by applying for government assistance.”

In another case arising from the governor’s urine crusade, the 11th Circuit also struck down his initiative to randomly drug-test state employees for pot, meth, coke, opiates and PCP.

Among those who would have been excluded from that dope screen were Scott himself and all 160 elected members of the House and Senate. Several times I’ve offered to pay the cost for each of them to pee in a cup and send it to a lab, yet there’s no enthusiasm in Tallahassee for that proposal.

Why not? An impaired public official can do way more harm than an impaired unemployed person.

If the governor and legislators are so worried about drug use by others, they should stand up (or sit down) and do the right thing.

Set an example by giving a sample.

If you can’t prove that you’re smart, at least prove that you’re clean.

 

By: Carl Hiaasen, Columnist for The Miami Herald; The National Memo, December 9, 2014

December 11, 2014 Posted by | Drug Testing, Rick Scott, Welfare Recipients | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Invasive And Humiliating”: Court Deals Blow To Drug Testing Of Florida Welfare Recipients

A federal appeals court on Wednesday upheld a lower federal court ruling that Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s crusade to conduct drug tests on welfare recipients as a condition of their benefits was unconstitutional.

The unanimous ruling came from a bipartisan panel of judges and broadly concluded that people cannot be forced to surrender their constitutional rights as a condition of receiving a government benefit. The decision came just two weeks after the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals judges heard arguments in the case.

In an exhaustive, 54-page ruling, Judge Stanley Marcus concluded that “citizens do not abandon all hope of privacy by applying for government assistance.” He said that “the collection and testing of urine intrudes upon expectations of privacy that society has long recognized as reasonable” and that “by virtue of poverty, TANF applicants are not stripped of their legitimate expectations of privacy.”

In 2011, Scott initiated a program to require drug testing as a condition for welfare applicants to receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits. The ACLU sued the state on behalf of Luis Lebron, a Navy veteran and single father.

In a statement, Maria Kayanan, ACLU of Florida associate legal director, said she was “pleased” by the court’s opinion.

“This is a resounding affirmation of the values that the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects — that none of us can be forced to submit to invasive and humiliating searches at the whim of the government, and that the Constitution protects the poor and the wealthy alike,” she said.

A circuit court judge ruled in 2013 that the program was an unconstitutional violation of the 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures, and halted testing. Scott appealed to the federal appeals court and a hearing was held Nov. 20.

The Florida Department of Children and Families had argued that the drug tests were warranted for all TANF recipients because the state had an interest in protecting children of welfare recipients who were using drugs. But Marcus concluded that “the State has presented no evidence that children of TANF parents face a danger or harm from drug use that is different from the general threat to all children in all families. After all, the State acknowledges that drug use harms all individuals and families, but the State does not — and cannot — claim an entitlement to drug test all parents of all children.”

In a separate case, Marcus wrote the opinion that struck down Scott’s attempt to randomly test state workers for drugs. Scott has considered appealing that ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court after removing from the list about half of the state’s classes of workers who would be eligible for drug screening.

 

By: Mary Ellen Klas, The Miami Herald (TNS); The National Memo, December 3, 2014

December 5, 2014 Posted by | Drug Testing, Rick Scott, Welfare Recipients | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

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