UPDATE: House Democrats question bill on welfare recipient drug tests

Wednesday, April 8, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

JEFFERSON CITY — The Missouri House on Tuesday gave first-round approval to a bill that would require drug tests of recipients of the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The legality of the measure was heavily questioned by House Democrats, who argue the measure violates the 4th Amendment.

"This is a search and seizure without probable cause," said Don Calloway, D-St. Louis County. Calloway, a lawyer, said the bill operates using a reasonable cause standard, not the probable cause standard required for police searches. According to Calloway, a drug test constitutes a search under the Fourth Amendment.

But House Speaker Pro Tem Bryan Pratt, R-Jackson County, said a federal court decision striking down drug tests was not binding in Missouri. 

"We don't care what the sixth circuit says, we're the eighth circuit," Pratt said.

Calloway said that under the ruling in Goldberg v. Kelly, the Supreme Court ruled that welfare is not a right, but that recipients are entitled to a hearing before losing government benefits. The state also has a legitimate interest in regulating welfare programs and monitoring drug use, he said.

"But is that interest narrowly tailored? No," Calloway said. There is a loss of due process, and the bill targets a single class of people, Calloway said. "It goes against the rational basis standard. They must expand the class tested in order for the state aim to be legitimate."

Calloway said this could be accomplished by expanding drug testing to every state worker or every private company that receives tax payer money from the state, rather than just welfare recipients.

Calloway volunteered his legal services free of charge to any person wanting to challenge the constitutional muster of the bill should it become a law.

The final vote was 109-45, but the bill will need one more vote before heading to the Senate.

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Sara Colboth April 8, 2009 | 8:27 a.m.

I don't see what the problem is here... Most employers require drug testing these days to gain employment... If I have to be drug tested TO work, others should be drug tested NOT TO work. If you don't like it, don't apply for TANF.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro April 8, 2009 | 9:57 a.m.

Testing for "Parenting while Intoxicated" should be considered for any parent receiving TANF.
My concerns would be focused on what is the testing program trying to achieve and how would it be administered so that it does not create more problems for society.
If illegal "hard" street drugs are being used, then the child is most likely in an at-risk situation.
Significant family intervention would be appropriate. (Guardianship for the child would be evaluated and reassigned and the addict would need to work a program and prove that conditions have improved.)
"Soft Ilegal Street" drug use would be a red flag and require some intervention such as home visits to determine whether or not the child is at significant risk of abuse or neglect. (Personally, I think home visits by concerned social workers should be taking place if any person receives TANF for their children.)
Unless there are medical/police reports of child abuse, indications of legal drugs should not be scrutinized as much.
Government's discovery of what's in any citizen's body is just the tip of the iceberg.
The imposed consequences of that discovery need to be carefully considered before executed.
Being "outraged" that recipients of taxpayer's money, via government programs, are using drugs does not mean that it's best to just throw a person off relief.
There are some very sick people out there. They need help.

(Report Comment)
Eric Cox April 8, 2009 | 10:20 a.m.

If a “family” is needy and the parent(s) are on drugs, who suffers the most if food aid is cut off , my best guess would be the children. And just testing everyone who works for the state or who receives tax money I’m sure the cost of the testing far outweighs any savings the could be gleaned from such an effort.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand April 8, 2009 | 12:08 p.m.

If you can afford drugs -- including alcohol and tobacco -- then you can afford to support yourself and any offspring.

(Report Comment)
Eric Cox April 8, 2009 | 1:53 p.m.

Ayn Rand well if you say so it must be true, you're a world renowned author not some small minded poser.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand April 9, 2009 | 1:09 p.m.

Eric, it's very simple: Drugs, alcohol or cigarettes are superfluous. If you're so hard up that you have to sponge off of society, then you should be using every last penny you have to support yourself and any children. Period. If you disagree, feel free to dig deeper into your pocket. One place to start is the food bank, which -- as a Tribune photo showed -- has a big ashtray bolted to the building because so many recipients smoke. Let them smoke up your money.

(Report Comment)
Eric Cox April 9, 2009 | 1:27 p.m.

Ayn Rand, so everybody gets to make a choice but the child who's only choice is not to eat. On principle your right people should pay to feed their children, that of course is not what happens. Oh and grow a set and quit posting under a pseudonym you coward.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro April 9, 2009 | 1:37 p.m.

In theory, I agree. Illegal street drugs, booze and cigarettes should not be purchased by those depending on government supplied TANF money. The only way I see preventing that from happening would be for TANF to stop providing cash and develop a non-cash/in-kind delivery of essential goods and services to ensure the well being of the child. The benefit to the parent should only be to the point of how it helps the child. Anything else is a "perk" for the adult.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand April 9, 2009 | 2:59 p.m.

Eric, the taxpayers supporting welfare recipients also do not get a choice: They're forced by law to support people who have money to blow on drugs, alcohol and tobacco. Again, if you feel that those people and programs don't have the money they deserve, you are free to give more out of your own pocket.

Ray, the alternative delivery mechanism you propose is a possibility. The only drawback I can think of is people turning around and selling some of those goods in order to get cash. I know people who do that with prescription drugs that they receive via Medicaid.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro April 9, 2009 | 3:56 p.m.

There will always be a "black market" for some thing.
TANF administrators would need to address that accordingly.
No proposed solution will ever be perfect. Just trying to make things better for all concerned parties.

(Report Comment)
Ayn Rand April 9, 2009 | 5:52 p.m.

Agreed that they'd have to figure out a way to address that. I've got to wonder if they would, though, judging by how lousy a job government agencies do when handing out handouts. For example, some states (e.g., Kansas) don't even require proof of pregnancy to qualify for programs such as WIC. Ridiculous.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro April 9, 2009 | 6:07 p.m.

Using private voluntary nonprofit agencies to provide support services to "unmarried" pregnant women, (with or without children), might be a better way to channel taxpayers' money to vital health and human care services. Government bureaucracy seems to get in the way of any program's effectiveness. Government entitlement programs have always been a nice plum for politicians seeking votes.

(Report Comment)

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