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Drug-Testing Welfare Recipients: A Trend with No Traction

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March 2, 2012

In the last few days there’s been a lot of national attention paid to legislation introduced in over 20 states proposing drug testing applicants and recipients of public benefits. Yesterday, USA Today ran a piece highlighting this disturbing trend and the Associated Press ran another story last weekend. Both of these pieces highlighted the ACLU’s work nationwide, on the ground in state legislatures and in the courts, to stop these nefarious laws from going into effect.

Both articles talk about the dozens of states where these bills have been introduced, but they both neglect to mention a key point: two months into the state legislative session, not a single welfare drug testing bill has passed into law. In fact, in state after state these bills are dying, in part due to the high costs of implementing such laws. Virginia decided that spending $1.3 million in the first year of implementation to create a drug testing program was just too much for a program that was projected to save the state only $229,165 in its first year.

There are other problems with the bill as well, perhaps most concerning that they target poor people for unconstitutional privacy violations without any proof that it’s necessary. As the ACLU’s Jason Williamson told USA Today, the proposed laws inaccurately suggest that people on welfare use drugs more than others. He went on: “This exemplifies the extent to which folks are willing to scapegoat poor people when it suits political interests…Subjecting people who are receiving public benefits to government intrusion, and the singling out of poor people in this country under the guise of saving money is worrisome to us.”

So far, the courts agree with us as well. We’ve written here before about the case of Luis Lebron; he’s the single father, full time student and Navy veteran who cares for his young son and disabled mother. Luis also happens to live in Florida, the state which passed the most extensive welfare drug testing law in the country last year. Luis refused to give up his privacy and submit to a drug test in order to access welfare and, with the assistance of the ACLU of Florida, sued the state to stop this unconstitutional law. We won the preliminary ruling and a judge stopped the Florida law from being implemented.

Unfortunately the state of Florida would not stop there and appealed the decision. This week, the ACLU of Florida filed our response to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. We are prepared to keep fighting this case and these proposed laws, as long as necessary.

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