Special to The Sun
On New Year’s Day, UPI ran a report concerning a federal judge’s ruling which struck down a Florida statute requiring some applicants for welfare to submit to drug testing. Details were sketchy, but the broad outlines seem to run like this.
In 2011, the Florida Legislature passed a law mandating that parents applying for a program called “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families,” must submit to and pay for a drug test. If the results are negative, costs of the test are refunded. If the test verified drug use by the applicant, benefits are denied and reapplication is not permitted for a year.
Shortly after the act was passed, the ACLU challenged the law on behalf of Navy veteran, Luis Lebron, a single-parent of a son who was five years old when Lebron refused to take the test. Due to his refusal, Florida denied the requested welfare assistance.
On New Year’s Day, 2014, U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven permanently halted the law’s enforcement saying, “The court finds there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied.”
Opponents of the law pointed out, of the about 4,000 applicants tested, less than 3 percent produced positive results — which, they say, is lower than the percentage of drug use in the general population. In dollars and cents terms, these opponents assert that Florida spent more on drug testing than it saved on cutting benefits.
Lebron, the nominal plaintiff reportedly stated: “The new law assumes that everyone who needs a little help has a drug problem… It’s wrong and unfair. It judges a whole group of people on their temporary economic status.”
This issue could be approached from too many angles to cover them all here; but let’s hit some highlights.
COST: It’s misleading to say the drug testing costs more than it saves. That could only be established by knowing how many people knew they wouldn’t pass the test and chose not to apply. Putting the emotional issues aside and focusing strictly on dollars and cents, the real savings cannot be calculated without knowing how many drug users were deterred from the application process.
ASSUMPTIONS: Mr. Lebron is dead wrong in leveling the emotional accusation that drug testing assumes poor people are drug users. Every applicant for a driver’s license is required to take a visual exam. This is not because the state assumes every applicant for a driver’s license is blind. The test is simply used to determine which applicants qualify for a license and which do not. The people of Florida made the policy decision certain people qualified for taxpayer assistance and some did not. The drug test, like the visual exam, simply determines which is which. To say the drug test makes negative assumptions about people is an assertion way too thin-skinned than the facts warrant.
“IT’S WRONG AND UNFAIR:” These days, the default position for anyone who doesn’t get their way is, “It’s unfair.” Anyone who raises a child through puberty is thoroughly soaked with this refrain every time a teenager is told, “No.” But is it really unfair to ask an applicant for public assistance to take a drug test? Assume that taxpayers are happy to help folks when their resources are inadequate. Is it wrong for taxpayers to insist — as a condition for their help — that the applicant not use taxpayer assistance as a partial underwriting for drug use? Put it another way. Is it fair to demand that taxpayers foot part of the applicant’s drug bill?
Let’s not lose sight of a simple fact. If the applicant is clean, then taxpayers jump in and help out. If the applicant has enough money for drugs, they can’t demand the taxpayers pick up part of the drug tab.
Applicants are asking (demanding?) that taxpayers write them a check. In the world of work, employers all over the country condition writing a paycheck on the employees’ taking and passing a drug test. Why should these applicants be granted an artificial shield from the consequences of their behavior when that shield is not available to working Americans?
UNCONSTITUTIONAL: The judge’s ruling is only defensible if Florida’s requirement of a drug test is “unreasonable.” “Irritating is not the standard. Let’s not slow down to discuss the irritating, invasive forms the taxing authorities require us to complete as a condition of allowing us to keep what we earn. “Unfair” is not the standard. The test is “unreasonable.”
So really, is it unreasonable to ask an applicant for assistance to take a drug test? What do you think? I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
MIKE HINKLE is a retired attorney and Edmond resident.