Dawsey: State Senate's Welfare Drug Test Push Is Legislative Bullying

March 22, 2014, 11:29 AM by  Darrell Dawsey

If you were to judge by the votes and rhetoric coming out of the state Senate the past couple of days, you might think right-wing Michigan legislators have a problem with substance abusers taking taxpayer money.

You’d be wrong.

After all, Republicans in Lansing have no problem with getting busted drunk driving and then continuing to hold their taxpayer-funded office and benefits. Republicans in Lansing don’t object to taxpayer-paid salaries or pensions for a former leader who's arrested during an alcohol-fueled outing with a loaded firearms months after a drunk-driving conviction. And neither do Republicans in Lansing see anything wrong with continuing a six-figure salary for a former state treasurer.

No, the Republicans in Lansing don’t have a problem with substance abusers who take tax money — only with poor substance abusers who take taxpayer money:

Michigan senators took another step toward requiring drug tests for certain welfare recipients Thursday, passing a Republican bill that Democrats oppose.

The House bill that passed the Senate 25-11 Thursday would establish a suspicion-based drug-testing pilot program for recipients of state cash assistance through the Family Independence Program. The legislation appropriates $500,000 in fiscal 2014 for the yearlong pilot program in at least three counties.

The bill is tied to a Senate bill still under consideration in the House. The legislation would require the Department of Human Services to screen FIP applicants and recipients for suspicion of substance abuse. Individuals whose screening results raised suspicions would have to take a drug test.

If a recipient’s first test showed drug use in violation of state law, DHS would refer the person to a treatment program. Anyone who failed the test a second time or who refused to take the test would be disqualified for assistance. A recipient’s children would remain eligible for assistance.

“When it comes to drug testing, individuals using taxpayer money for assistance need to be held accountable for abusing it – period,” bill sponsor Sen. Joe Hune, R-Whitmore Lake, said in a statement.

Of course, such sanctimony flows far more smoothly when you’re some know-nothing Republican representing an overwhelmingly white enclave with a median household income above $51,000 and a relatively low percentage of poor people. Stroking that constituency for cheap political points gets a lot more intense when you can define them out of the equation, when the unreasonable and mean-spirited punishment you hope to exact leaves scars that you don’t have to see and elicits screams that you don’t have to hear.

Or that you wouldn’t care about even if you did.

Michigan and other states have tried going down this road before and have found that it doesn’t amount to much.

But that hasn’t stopped pious right-wingers from returning to failed policy. And that’s because this isn’t about safeguarding taxpayer money. It’s not about any concern for accountability. This is about blaming “the others,” about scolding and pushing around on a group of people — the poorest of the poor — who make for easy targets and lack almost any real power to fight back or even be heard.

This is little more than legislative bullying.

If not, then why single out the poor with tough talk? Why shouldn’t all “individuals using taxpayer money for assistance” be “held accountable for abusing it — period?”

  • Why not subject Joe Hune to regular piss tests?
  • Why shouldn’t a prior offender like Bob Genetski have a breathalyzer tube shoved into his whiskey chute every time he shows up on the Capitol steps?
  • What about all those highly paid consultants and contractors who inhale taxpayer dollars by the millions?
  • Who’s going to swab Kevyn Orr’s cheek?

Surely, the state has far more to lose by allowing men and women in power to operate with their heads clouded by the vodka and the purple haze, right? Don’t we stand to lose more if there isn’t greater scrutiny on those who hold the greatest sway? And don’t we know by now that the measure of a man’s bank account or Rolodex is in no way a measure of his virtue?

If they’re serious about cracking down on worthless substance abusers taking our tax money to essentially do nothing, Republicans in Lansing could start from a much higher perch than the welfare rolls in Pontiac or the housing projects in Detroit.

In fact, they wouldn’t even have to leave their chambers.

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