September 20, 2018

Welfare Drug Testing Bill Fails (Appropriately!)

A bill in Arkansas that was pushing for welfare drug testing has failed – setting a precedent for the handful of other states that are currently considering similar legislation. The Senate Health, Welfare and Labor Committee killed Senate Bill 157 in a Monday vote.

Under the bill, recipients would be randomly tested for methamphetamine, cocaine, and heroin, with 10% of them being tested at the third and 13th weeks of benefits.

But the bill drew opposition from both the Arkansas chapter of the ACLU, for who Holly Dickson testified, and the Arkansas AFL-CIO, which was represented by its president, Alan Hughes. Committee Chairman Sen. Percy Malone (D-Arkadelphia) sided with opponents.

Bills aimed at drug testing people applying for or receiving government benefits are a perennial in state legislatures, with similar legislation being introduced in more than a dozen states. But they rarely go far because of constitutional problems with suspicion-less drug testing, concerns over the cost of drug testing (, and worries that such policies would be counterproductive by hurting the families of those whose benefits would be stopped.

A bill has also been proposed that would require “candidates for the legislature” to submit to drug tests, which turns the Chandler v Miller case of 1997 on its head.

Illinois representative Bill Mitchell (R-Forsyth) has introduced HB 1402, to require candidates for the legislature to submit, along with their ballot access petition, the results of a “substance abuse test”. The test must have taken place within the 60 days before the petition is submitted. Mitchell is not a neophyte state legislator; he was first elected to the Illinois legislature in 1998.

Mitchell is also a prominent campaigner for welfare change, suggesting that drug testing of welfare recipients would go some way to reducing the cost to the taxpayers . He says: “Representative Brown and I have filed a package of bills to reform our welfare system and save the State tens of millions of dollars. Governor Quinn and his Democrat allies in the legislature just stuck taxpayers with a $7 billion tax hike. Yet they have opposed these common-sense welfare reform proposals in the past. We feel that taxpayers should not have to pay for welfare benefits for illegal aliens and drug abusers”.

This type of welfare testing has been suggested in various states in recent months, and it will be no surprise if Illinois move forward with this legislation. No doubt other states will do something similar as 2016 progresses.

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