Saturday, February 17, 2018
Politics

Gov. Rick Scott again refuses to let go of a flawed idea

Forgive the governor, he just can't help himself.

He loves this airbrushed image of a crusader. A righter of wrongs. A guy unafraid to kick some butt, even if his aim is consistently off.

This might explain why Rick Scott refuses to let go of this plan to drug-test welfare recipients, even if it has virtually no chance of surviving judicial inspection.

Now, to be fair, there is a certain "Hell yeah!'' quality to this issue that appeals to a lot of good folks. Should residents receiving government assistance be spending money on drugs? Of course not. Should people searching for a job be getting high? Of course not. Should the government crack down on any abuses in the welfare system? Absolutely.

So if many of us agree on that, what's the problem with drug testing?

Well, to start with, there is no evidence this is a widespread problem.

And it unjustly demonizes people simply for being poor.

And it appears to cost more than it saves.

And it makes a mockery of the Constitution.

Other than that, it's a swell idea.

"The governor is locked into this ideological crusade,'' said Baylor Johnson, a spokesman for the ACLU of Florida, which has prevailed against the state's drug testing law in lower court battles. "Neither the facts, nor the economic realities nor the opinions of the court have convinced him otherwise.''

You might recall Scott campaigned on the issue of drug testing in 2010, and signed a bill into law after the Legislature approved a plan in 2011.

Drug testing was a reality for several months before a Navy veteran from Orlando became the lead plaintiff in the ACLU's case, and an injunction shut the program down.

As it turns out, the three months of tests did little to bolster the state's argument.

Only 2.6 percent of the applicants tested positive. When you consider a National Institute on Drug Abuse report estimates that nearly 9 percent of the nation indulges in drug use on a monthly basis, our state's poor population seems positively puritanical.

But, wait!

The state keeps insisting that more than 2,000 people who were eligible for assistance declined to apply while drug testing was the law. The implication was that there were hordes of drug users who were afraid to be tested.

That sounds great, except a Department of Children and Families report indicated the number of people applying for assistance did not decline during those few months. In other words, a lot of folks routinely fail to apply all the time.

So there is no evidence tons of poor people were spending all their spare pennies on drugs, and no evidence the program was a deterrent.

What about the savings for taxpayers?

Yeah, not so much.

Applicants were forced to pay up front (an interesting concept for people on welfare) and were reimbursed if tests came out negative.

When the savings from the 2.6 percent who tested positive were compared to the refunds for the other 97.4 percent, the state had lost about $45,000. And that does not include the money lost in salaries for state employees who had to implement this plan.

Are you beginning to see the trend here?

The philosophy behind drug testing might be appealing, but the application is problematic. And the necessity is in serious doubt. And that's before we even get into the legal issue of suspicion-less searches.

And yet the state filed another brief this week in a federal appeals court to get the lower court's ruling overturned.

"The argument the governor has been making in defense of this law is rooted in ugly and untrue stereotypes about people who are in need,'' Johnson said.

"It is an offensive and cruel way for our government to look at its neediest citizens, and it is not borne out by evidence.''

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