Texas Governor Rick Perry this week threw his weight behind a bill to require all welfare and unemployment applicants to submit to a drug test. The bill, SB 11, was filed on Monday by Republican state Senator Jane Nelson. It deem those who fail a drug test ineligible for assistance for up to a year.
The Texas bill takes the drug testing regime a to new extremes. Not only will a failed test lead to loss of benefits, it also requires the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to report mothers and fathers who fail tests to Child Protective Services.
As I reported earlier this year, dozens of state legislatures considered similar bills in the last two legislative sessions and in several states they became law.
Welfare drug testing bills don’t have a particularly rosy history.
In Florida, a welfare drug testing bill was blocked by a U.S. district court on constitutional grounds. The court said the bill violates the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. The case is still proceeding through the courts. The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta heard arguments in the ACLU’s challenge of the law on November 1st. The court has yet to issue a decision.
Beyond legalities, the Florida law turned out to be a solution in search of a problem: nearly 98 percent of applicants passed drug tests. Meanwhile, the testing requirement cost the state money: over $45,000 more was spent implementing tests than Florida saved by booting people off welfare. Even so, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal decided to follow suit, signing a similar bill earlier this year. Its implementation has been held up until legal questions are resolved in 11th Circuit case on Florida’s law.
No state has passed a bill to require unemployment insurance applicants to pass a drug test because federal law is clear that benefits can be denied only to people whose job loss was their own fault. Said differently, drug use can’t be used as a condition of eligibility unless drugs cost an applicant their job in the first place.
As I wrote in April:
It’s notable that half of the states that have considered drug testing cash assistance applicants in the past year weighed legislation that would almost surely fail a legal challenge. It’s also notable that data shows drug testing to be wasteful. … But constitutionality and efficacy aren’t relevant. The point is to stigmatize poor people and, thus, provide political cover for safety net cutting in a time when millions of Americans need it more than ever.
This is not the first time a drug testing bill has been introduced in Texas, but is the first time the Governor has so forcefully thrown his weight behind the law. On Tuesday, Gov. Perry and Lieutenant Gov. David Dewhurst released a statement supporting a recently introduced bill:
Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst called on the Texas Legislature to enact reforms to the state’s welfare and unemployment benefit programs, including authorizing drug screenings for those applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits. State Sen. Jane Nelson has pre-filed a bill for the upcoming legislative session to require drug screening for TANF applicants.
“Texas taxpayers will not subsidize or tolerate illegal drug abuse. Every dollar that goes to someone who uses it inappropriately is a dollar that can’t go to a Texan who needs it for housing, child care or medicine,” Gov. Perry said. “Being on drugs makes it much harder to begin the journey to independence, which only assures individuals remain stuck in the terrible cycle of drug abuse and poverty.”