An unnecessary and perhaps unconstitutional bill that would require some welfare recipients to be drug tested has passed an Oklahoma House subcommittee.
If eventually passed and signed into law, the bill will almost certainly be met with a lawsuit that will probably cost the state in mounting legal fees just like the proposed so-called personhood bill now making its way through the legislature.
House Bill 2388, sponsored by state Rep. Guy Liebmann (R-Oklahoma City), would require any adult receiving money from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a federal program, to be drug tested in Oklahoma. Under the bill, if applicants for assistance tested positive for drugs, they would be denied benefits. They could apply again in one year. The bill is modeled after Florida legislation that has been challenged in a federal court. The Oklahoma bill passed a budget subcommittee for human services on a 6 to 2 vote.
The idea behind both the Florida and Oklahoma bills is a typical, mean-spirited and untrue Republican political trope criticizing welfare recipients. The trope argues, among other things, that welfare recipients are mostly lazy drug users ripping off the government. Statistics show this to be absolutely wrong, but the trope has persisted since former President Ronald Reagan’s infamous statement in 1976 citing the case of a “welfare queen.”
Let’s be clear: The bill is more about perpetuating a conservative political myth than actually accomplishing anything.
A media report cited information from the Oklahoma Department of Human Services that shows some TANF recipients here are already tested for drugs. The numbers are hardly astonishing: 5,000 adults receive money from TANF, 3,000 are tested for drugs and about 5 percent test positive and are referred to treatment. So, in essence, welfare recipients ARE already getting drug tested in Oklahoma and a small number are found to be using drugs. How does that make for a crisis that demands legislation?
But when Florida first started drug testing welfare recipients, it found only 2 percent tested positive, according to a media report. Again, both the Oklahoma and Florida numbers don’t add up to a crisis.
One of the problems with Oklahoma’s proposed law is that those requesting TANF assistance would have to pay from $30 to $45 for the drug tests. That’s a lot of money for someone who needs financial assistance.
The money would be refunded later if the test is negative, but that only means taxpayers will be footing the bill for an unnecessary program. It’s a waste of money to promote a political ideology. Will the federal government and courts even allow it?
The fact remains that drug use transcends social class and that it’s a wider cultural issue that needs to be addressed through treatment programs and other means. By singling out one small group of people, the bill unfairly casts aspersions and this probably makes it unconstitutional. Welfare recipients already face challenges that many people can only imagine. The bill would just make their lives more difficult. Why would anyone want to demean someone in dire need of help?
As I've written before, bills like this one are merely side shows in the ongoing legislative carnival operated primarily by the Republicans this year. Another Oklahoma bill granting personhood to a fertilized egg in a woman’s body has passed the Oklahoma Senate. This anti-abortion bill, too, would face an obvious legal challenge if eventually signed into law.
The question needs to be asked: If the Republicans do pass an income tax cut this year, how will the state pay for all the legal fees it will incur because of overreaching and ideological legislation and ballot amendments?