The Garden City Telegram
3/13/2013
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Drug bust

Legislators should dismiss misguided plan for testing.

Conservative Republicans in Kansas have a way of trying to solve problems that don't exist.

Enacting a requirement for voters to show identification as a way to ward off the imagined threat of voter fraud would be one example.

And now, count a move to submit Kansans on welfare to drug testing as another unnecessary and potentially costly ploy, when there's no compelling evidence of drug users taking advantage of welfare.

The legislation that passed the Kansas Senate would subject welfare recipients to drug testing when there's "reasonable" suspicion of drug use. Those who fail the test would have their welfare suspended until they complete drug treatment and a job skills program.

It's not clear what would constitute "reasonable" suspicion of drug use, so people receiving aid could be singled out in a punitive way. Yet GOP State Sen. Larry Powell of Garden City supported the bill, with no regard for the many poor constituents in his district who could be unfairly targeted.

Courts have struck down such measures as unconstitutional attacks on people seeking help. While supporters of the Kansas plan would hope to avoid court challenges by not requiring all on welfare to be tested, it's dangerous to single out anyone based on an arbitrary assessment of "reasonable" suspicion.

Critics of the measure also ask why others receiving state benefits — tax breaks, for example — wouldn't be subjected to the same scrutiny.

A last-minute move to include lawmakers in the drug-testing plan shouldn't fool anyone. Conservatives pushing for such programs believe many poor people misuse aid they receive, and cutting them off would bring significant savings — even though statistics prove otherwise in states that tested welfare recipients.

Also unclear would be the cost of rehabilitation in a state already wrangling with a significant budget shortfall.

Consider the drug-test plan just another way for conservatives to punish the poor and vulnerable — many of whom lost their jobs and need a temporary lifeline until they return to the workforce.

Lawmakers should focus on ways to get those folks back to work, rather than targeting them with unnecessary legislation.