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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Ind. Law - "House GOP wants drug tests for welfare recipients, despite cost"

That is the headline of Dan Carden's story today in the NWI Times:

INDIANAPOLIS | Indiana is poised to take another spin on the welfare drug testing merry-go-round, even though the program's cost will significantly exceed the savings gained from positive tests and a federal judge last month ruled a similar Florida law unconstitutional.

House Speaker Brian Bosma, R-Indianapolis, said Thursday he was happy to "enthusiastically endorse" legislation set to be filed Monday by state Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, that Bosma described as "entitlement reform through drug testing."

This will be McMillin's fourth attempt to subject the state's 27,000 recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits — mostly single mothers with children — to mandatory drug testing as a condition of receiving cash assistance.

The Republican-controlled House and Senate separately approved his 2013 proposal, but it died in a conference committee tasked with resolving the two versions. It would have spent more than $3 million to implement drug testing, with the state getting back only $215,000 from positive tests, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency.

TANF recipients are among the very poorest Hoosiers. A two-person family, such as a mother and child, must earn less than $5,661 a year and have less than $1,000 in assets to qualify for TANF.

The average per person monthly TANF payment is about $85, according to the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration. The state pays just one-third of the approximately $25 million provided annually to Hoosier TANF recipients. The federal government pays the rest.

Bosma said drug testing of TANF recipients is needed to "ensure public money is being used for the purpose intended and not for other purposes."

He cited no evidence that TANF beneficiaries use illegal drugs more often than the general public. In the four months that Florida's drug testing program was running, before being halted by court order, fewer than 3 percent of tests were positive.

Bosma scoffed at the idea that he, as a recipient of a state government paycheck, also should be required to be drug tested.

"If I looked like I wasn't giving a full day's work for that, perhaps," Bosma said.

When asked directly if he considered the many things mothers do, including low-income mothers receiving TANF payments, to be work worthy of state support, Bosma said no.

"They're not working for those funds," Bosma said.

The idea of drug testing welfare recipients is supported by the powerful American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a business-backed group that writes model legislation on hundreds of issues for state lawmakers to adopt. About 30 state legislatures considered welfare drug testing proposals last year.

At least 50 of the 106 Republican members of the Indiana House and Senate are ALEC members. Republican Gov. Mike Pence was the keynote speaker at ALEC's December policy summit.

Interesting, the traditionally somewhat conservative Fort Wayne News-Sentinel has an editorial today headlined:"General Assembly and the Fourth Amendment: How many groups will legislators single out with no good cause." Some quotes:
The General Assembly has a thing for drug testing, doesn’t it?

It is considering a bill requiring welfare recipients to be tested for drugs if they fail a written screening exam, agreeing to enter treatment or risk losing benefits if they test positive. They’re still serious about the idea despite the facts that a similar proposal failed twice and federal welfare officials have turned back similar plans in other states.

And now there is a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana challenging a new rule requiring patients prescribed certain amounts of pain medication to submit to annual drug tests. The ACLU says, reasonably, that the requirement violates the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unreasonable government-mandated searches for which no probable cause exists.

Heck, why don’t legislators stop this piecemeal approach and just require all of us to undergo yearly drug testing for every illegal substance on Earth? They wouldn’t then be singling out one group such as welfare recipients or pain sufferers but in a fair way targeting everyone. And we would be assured of having a drug-free Indiana full of clean-blooded Hoosiers.

Of course, they’d have to come up with a suitable punishment for miscreants. Perhaps they can create a whole new system of drug-test prisons or double the tax bills of sinners or just shoot every 10th violator.

We’re being hyperbolic, of course, but to prove a point. “Innocent until proven guilty” is the bedrock of our criminal justice system. Yes, it applies most directly to procedures in a court of law, but it’s also a philosophy underpinning the way the authority is supposed to deal with us. The Fourth Amendment depends on such a sentiment: Unless we have created a reasonable suspicion that we have done wrong, go away and leave us alone. [Emphasis in original]

Posted by Marcia Oddi on January 14, 2014 09:02 AM
Posted to Indiana Law