The Latest in Irrational Oklahoma Lawmaking-Urine Tests for Welfare Recipients (and political candidates)

Kaye Beach

March 15, 2012

From 23rd and Lincoln the JRLR’s Insiders’ Report;

House passes bill requiring drug testing of TANF recipients; Shelton amendment extends to political candidates

A measure requiring welfare recipients to be drug tested passed the House Monday morning, with a floor amendment that would expand the requirement to include political candidates.

HB 2388, by Rep. Guy Liebmann, R-Oklahoma City, would require drug tests of individuals who receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, within three months of being approved for benefits, with the applicant bearing the cost of the test. In a two-parent household, both parents would have to be tested.

Read more

First of all, I do not relish the idea of my tax dollars going to support people who are doing drugs.  But here is my problem.  I have an attachment to our Bill of Rights and I know that these rights apply to all of us or they apply to none.

Now,  I’m no lawyer but it seems clear that these programs strike a potent blow to our Fourth Amendment.  You know the one that prohibits search and seizure without a warrant?  Number 4, if you haven’t noticed, is hanging by the barest of threads as it is. I will admit, it is not my concern over poor pot smoking welfare recipients that motivates me on this (Nevermind that alcohol which is perfectly legal but causes terrible damage to individuals and families is not at issue here.  Ask yourself would you prefer an alcoholic parent or a pot smoking one?  Hands down, if I am a child, I am praying for a pot smoking parent as opposed to an alcoholic any day of the week! ) No.  My concern is for how this will effect me.

Legal experts have said that allowing this type of program in order catch a few illegal drug users on the public dole is too high a price to pay as it would weaken  our rights under the Fourth Amendment.

I have done some research and no matter which way I look at it, drug testing for welfare recipients just seems to be poor policy as well.

On Oct. 24, 2011,  a federal judge in Florida, Judge Scriven (appointed by GW Bush) halted the Florida drug testing of welfare recipients program which was challenged by a 35 year old Navy veteran, Luis Lebron,  a full time student at the University of Central Florida.
The Florida judge found that the drug testing program is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Judge Scriven writes; “The constitutional rights of a class of citizens are at stake, and the Constitution dictates that the needs asserted to justify subverting those rights must be special, as the case law defines that term, in order for this exception to the Fourth Amendment to apply.”
The Florida federal judge found that there was no “special needs”  to justify this program.

The “special needs” doctrine is another exception to the warrant and probable cause requirements of the Fourth Amendment. Special needs cases generally arise from searches by government actors other than police officers, such as school officials, public employers, and probation officers.

The doctrine applies when the government can demonstrate that:

(1)     it is impracticable to obtain a warrant;

(2)     the governmental interest outweighs the intrusion;

(3)  the immediate objective of the search is one other than to generate evidence for law enforcement purposes, even if the ultimate goal is non-criminal in nature.  link

There was also a  study done before implementing this program which showed  a very low incidence (5.1%) of illicit drug use among welfare recipients.

“In this litigation, the State provides scant evidence that rampant drug abuse exists among this class of individuals,” writes Judge Scriven.

**Around 8% of the general population uses illicit drugs.

That same study produced these facts;

Evidence from the Florida demonstration project showed very little difference between drug users and non-users on a variety of dimensions. Users were employed at about the same rate as were non-users, earned approximately the same amount of money as those who were drug free and did not require substantially different levels of governmental assistance.

Read the 37 page ruling here.

The Florida drug testing program in it’s first month  found 2% of TANF applicants tested positive for illicit drug use. There were a number of applicants that did refuse the test and that is certainly a money saver but, are all of those refusers taking illicit drugs?                                                                                       Well,  there is the fee for the test that some may have been unable to pay, transportation to the clinic to do the test may have been lacking and it is even possible that some of those that refused although poor, might also be too proud to relinquish their rights by submitting to a pee test as in the case of the Navy vet who brought the case against the state in the first place.  A urine test is legally considered to be a search and there was no reasonable suspicion that this gentleman was doing drugs therefore his rights were being violated.

Potential candidates for office might be relived to know that the same grounds that have repeatedly sunk the drug testing for welfare recipients also applies to them.  The Georgia Supreme Court sunk the drug testing for political candidates based on no substantial special need.

What we do know from the facts is that only 2-5% of potential recipients test positive for illicit drugs and previous studies show that those who do test positive show no measurable difference in employment rates or amount of assistance required than non users.

All in all, from a public policy perspective, there seems to be no pressing need for this program.  Emotionally however, it is a different story.  No one like the idea that we are using tax dollars to support lifestyles we don’t approve of.  So the question is, do we push forth policy based on moral indignation even if the facts don’t support our concerns?  Do we push forth policy not supported by the facts for emotional gratification even though there may be negative repercussions on all of us as in weakening the Fourth Amendment?

Judge Scriven writes;

Conversely, imposing an injunction would serve the public interest by protecting TANF applicants from the harm caused by infringement of their constitutional right, a right here that once infringed cannot be restored. “Perhaps no greater public interest exists than protecting a citizen’s rights under the constitution.” (Emphasis mine) Marchwinski, 113 F. Supp. 2d at 1144 (quoting Legal Aid Soc. of Haw. v. Legal Servs. Corp., 961 F. Supp. 1402, 1418 (D. Hawaii 1997))  link

And yes.  Someone will sue and that will cost the state beaucoup bucks to defend against and the state will lose. No cost savings, less freedom-what’s not to love about this bill!?  

Seriously, can we stop implementing irrational policies that just come back to bite us in the butt?



4 responses to “The Latest in Irrational Oklahoma Lawmaking-Urine Tests for Welfare Recipients (and political candidates)

  1. This is a great bill! We are damn fools to subsidise drug addicts. I’d like to see a bill that would take away the right to vote for ANYONE on welfare foodstamps or section 8 housing. It might motivate them to work and build self esteem!

  2. Dear Bob,
    Did you read anything in my post? To summarize: This legislation, first of all, is not necessary. There is nothing to indicate that there is enough people on welfare and drugs, to constitute any sort of a crisis. Number two, upholding this legislation will harm what is left of our Fourth Amendment.
    That means it is UNCONSTITUTIONAL. That effects ALL of us not just those dirty little slackers that smoke dope.

    You can’t take away one’s right to vote Bob. It is a RIGHT. If you take away rights for some, you have just lost that RIGHT for all. Sorry, that is how it works.

    We are losing as many of our freedoms due to willful ignorance as we are because of police-state loving legislators.

  3. The thing I wonder about is where would a person on welfare come up with the 40 or 50 dollars to be able to get the test. If I was a mother on welfare I would look at that money and say to myself.
    “Ok, I can get to work on this money all week or I can feed my family for a few days”. And when will this take place, on a work day when she can’t afford to take off work? And when every dollar of gas is so precious how does she afford to drive to wherever ?

  4. Come to Poteau Oklahoma, where you will find people on welfare living in crap houses, driving $25,000+ vehicles, addicted to “illegal” prescription drugs, meth, and some pot users, who do NOT work. Tax payers are paying some of their heating/cooling bills, groceries, and paying for their children to attend daycare, when the parents aren’t even working. I say if you have to be drug tested to find employment, which is from where you shall receive money, then from where you shall receive “money”, aka welfare, then you shall be tested.
    By the way, I agree to the pot head parents over alcoholics. I think the drug testing is not fair in the aspect that pot smokers are far less risky than those addicting to prescrition pills and meth, yet the urine tests seem to be geared towards marijuanna.
    I applied for TANIF once in my life, as a new mother, newly divorced from an abusive spouse, and I was turned down for assistance because I worked everyday of my life since the age of 16. I watched a gal I knew, who told me about the assistance (who was on TANIF), buy a Cobra Mustang, a few years old of a model at them time, living in her mother’s home rent free, and a marijuanna user……..and some knock the drug testing, sure. Not me, in fact, forget testing, send those welfare workers into the field to investigate those on benefits, isn’t that their job anyway. If investigations were going on, DHS would find a lot of applications are filled with LIES, and needless money is being thrown out the door!

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