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“Kansas Has Gone Full Tea Party”: Kansas’ Experiment In Concentrated Conservatism Keeps Getting Grimmer

Kansas is in the midst of a grim experiment putting crackpot supply-side economic theories into practice. While these economic anti-reforms will have devastating results for poor people in the state, in other respects Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and his legislative allies have made the government more intrusive into the private lives of the state’s citizens. April has provided some particularly egregious examples of this disastrous turn.

Kansas has been a Republican state for a long time. Since 1936, the only time the state has given its electoral votes to a Democratic candidate was to Lyndon Johnson in the massive landslide of 1964. Despite this, Kansas has historically not been a far-right state. Prominent Kansas Republicans have generally been moderates, like Bob Dole and Nancy Kassebaum. Kathleen Sebelius, President Obama’s former secretary of health and human services, was the state’s Democratic governor as recently as 2009.

But since the election of Brownback, Kansas has gone full Tea Party. Kansas Republicans have enacted massive upper-class tax cuts, with the idea that they would produce such an explosion of economic growth that the state would actually gain revenues. This makes no sense in theory and has been a catastrophe in practice. Revenues have cratered, while economic growth lags behind neighboring states. Spending on the poor has decreased, while the tax burden on the poor has increased. Needless to say, Kansas has rejected the Medicaid expansion offered by the Affordable Care Act, denying access to health care for many poor Kansans.

Kansas Republicans certainly have no intention of taking responsibility for this disaster, which means a search for scapegoats. The targets should not be surprising: poor people, women, and gay people.

Earlier this month, Brownback signed a bill that, among other things, prevents welfare recipients from spending government-provided funds on things poor people do not spend their money on, such as cruise ships. As Emily Badger of The Washington Post observes, this reflects a trend in Republican-governed states of placing burdens and restrictions on poor people that do not apply to any other recipients of government benefits — and for no good reason.

The demeaning of the poor doesn’t end there. Recipients of funds from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program will have their daily withdrawals, using the provided ATM cards, limited to $25 a day, not only creating needless inconvenience, but effectively transferring money from the poorest citizens in the state to banks in the forms of additional fees.

Brownback rose to prominence as more of a social conservative than a fiscal conservative. So it’s not surprising that Kansas is placing irrational legal burdens on women as well. Kansas passed a bill banning dilation and evacuation abortions (under the junk science name “dismemberment abortions.”) The procedure is safe — so there is no health-related justification for banning it — and is the most common one used for second-trimester abortions, which women have a constitutional right to obtain.

Even worse, the ban does not contain exceptions for rape, incest, or most threats to a woman’s health. The law puts women’s health at risk by interfering with the judgment of doctors in order to punish women for exercising their constitutional rights in a way Kansas legislators disapprove of.

Brownback’s attacks on basic justice and equality don’t end there. In 2007, Sebelius issued an order banning discrimination against LGBT state employees. Earlier this year, Brownback rescinded the order, creating a new standard under which state employees could be fired simply because of their sexual orientation. Brownback defended the order using the traditionally disingenuous “special rights” language so often employed by those who favor legal protection for bigotry: “This Executive Order ensures that state employees enjoy the same civil rights as all Kansans without creating additional ‘protected classes’ as the previous order did.”

This argument would make sense — if you think that gay and straight people are equally likely to be discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. In the actually existing world, Brownback’s measure does not guarantee civil rights to all Kansans, opening the door for discrimination against gays and lesbians based on their sexual orientation.

Under Brownback, Kansas has offered a concentrated form of what most national Republicans claim to want. Tax cuts for the wealthy, tax increases and reduced benefits for the poor, arbitrary interference with the reproductive freedom of women, and increased discrimination against gays and lesbians. Voters next November should ask themselves whether they want this ghastly agenda to be repeated on a national scale.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article mistakenly asserted that Kansas recently banned dilation and extraction abortions, but these were already illegal.

 

By: Scott Lemieux, The Week, April 24, 2015

April 26, 2015 Posted by | Civil Rights, Kansas, Tea Party | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Pitting Retirees Against The Disabled”: GOP Manufacturing A Social Security Crisis To Threaten Benefits For Millions Of Disabled Americans

When conservatives who like to whine about “welfare” are forced to be more specific, some go after the traditional if significantly less generous TANF program of cash assistance, or Medicaid, or those receiving subsidies under Obamacare. But more often these days, they attack either Disability Insurance or SNAP, programs that have experienced large increases in eligibility because of the economy or demographic trends or both.

Congressional Republicans failed last year to force the inclusion of a major reduction in SNAP eligibility in the 2014 Farm Bill. But now they appear to be going after DI, through the half-clever mechanism of pitting beneficiaries against the larger universe of Social Security retirement recipients. Here’s a quick description of the ploy from TPM’s Dylan Scott:

The incoming GOP majority approved late Tuesday a new rule that experts say could provoke an unprecedented crisis that conservatives could use as leverage in upcoming debates over entitlement reform.

The largely overlooked change puts a new restriction on the routine transfer of tax revenues between the traditional Social Security retirement trust fund and the Social Security disability program. The transfers, known as reallocation, had historically been routine; the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said Tuesday that they had been made 11 times. The CBPP added that the disability insurance program “isn’t broken,” but the program has been strained by demographic trends that the reallocations are intended to address.

The House GOP’s rule change would still allow for a reallocation from the retirement fund to shore up the disability fund — but only if an accompanying proposal “improves the overall financial health of the combined Social Security Trust Funds,” per the rule, expected to be passed on Tuesday. While that language is vague, experts say it would likely mean any reallocation would have to be balanced by new revenues or benefit cuts.

I have zero doubt Republicans will describe this rules change, now that it’s getting attention, as a measure to “protect Social Security,” even though DI is part of the same system, and the ploy may actually be aimed at producing “entitlement reforms” affecting retiree benefits as well as disability eligibility. But Democrats, led by Elizabeth Warren, do seem to be all over this with unusual alacrity:

“It’s ridiculous – but not surprising – that on the very first day of the new Congress, Republicans are manufacturing a Social Security crisis to threaten benefits for millions of disabled Americans – including 233,260 in Massachusetts alone,” Warren said on Facebook. “We can’t turn our backs on the promises we’ve made to our families, friends, and neighbors who need our help the most. House Republicans should stop playing political games to put America’s most vulnerable at risk.”

So we’ll probably see leading Republicans take a low profile on the issue for a while, as their friends in the conservative chattering classes probably ratchet up the talk about the freeloading bums on DI.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 7, 2015

January 9, 2015 Posted by | Disability Insurance, Republicans, Social Security | , , , , , , , | 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

“Not A Good Sign”: Wisconsin’s Walker, Struggling, Rolls Out New Platform

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) had a plan: win a second term, take advantage of a good year for Republicans, and soon after prepare for a national campaign. The plan is looking a little shaky right now, with polls show him in the midst of a very competitive re-election campaign against Democratic businesswoman Mary Burke.

A month ago, the Republican incumbent and his allies tried moving to the left, blasting Burke as an “outsourcing one-percenter.”

That didn’t do much to improve Walker’s standing, so the governor is now moving back to the right, promising big tax cuts and drug testing for those receiving public aid in a second term.

With less than two months to go in a tight re-election race, the Republican governor put forward a 62-page plan that sums up the actions of his first term, defends them against the critique of his Democratic rival, former Trek Bicycle executive Mary Burke, and offers several new proposals.

“It’s our next wave of the Wisconsin comeback. It’s our plan to make sure that everyone who wants a job can find a job,” Walker said in a telephone interview.

As a rule, when an incumbent is still scrambling seven weeks before Election Day, looking for a platform while struggling to defend his record, it’s not a good sign.

Walker, referencing a one-page summary of his agenda, told the AP, “That’s our plan of action for the next four years. Tear it off. Hang it up. Put it next to your computer. Put it on your fridge.”

Part of the trouble is, Walker used similar rhetoric four years ago, when he promised Wisconsin he’d create 250,000 private sector jobs by the end of his first term – and said he should be judged according to that standard. Nearly four years later, the governor is less than halfway to his goal, and has yet to explain why he couldn’t keep his highest-profile promise.

But even putting that aside, the two key tenets of the Republican’s new agenda – tax cuts and drug testing – probably polled well, but they each come with one big flaw.

On the former, Walker already cut taxes in his first term, and it’s caused a mess for Wisconsin’s state finances. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel editorialized last week:

Wisconsin’s state budget may be out of balance by nearly $1.8 billion when the new two-year cycle begins next July, and for that you can thank Gov. Scott Walker’s fiscal policies.

While the expected shortfall may end up being smaller – or larger – than it appears to be now, it’s clear that a combination of Walker policies and lagging growth in tax revenue blew a hole in the state’s finances.

The governor, facing this reality, is calling for more tax breaks. Perfect.

But the latter is arguably even more offensive. The plan would require “drug testing at an undisclosed cost for able-bodied adults receiving unemployment insurance payments or benefits under FoodShare, the successor to the food stamps program.” It’s part of a political phenomenon we discussed earlier this year: conservative policymakers keep targeting welfare recipients with drug tests, and the policies keep failing rather spectacularly.

We know exactly what drives these efforts. 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. Maybe the state should assume you have a drug problem.

But recent real-world evidence points in a different direction. Requiring those who are relying on the safety net to give the government their bodily fluids in exchange for benefits is not only legally dubious; it’s also ineffective and a waste of money.

If Walker doesn’t know these previous experiments have failed, he should. If he does know and chooses to push the idea anyway, it would seem the governor’s plan for the next seven weeks is built on little more than callous cynicism.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, September 16, 2014

September 17, 2014 Posted by | Scott Walker, Wisconsin | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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