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The new normal: Fighting state laws that defy common sense

Is anyone else starting to hate the phrase "the new normal" — as in, "Get used to this miserable state of affairs, because it's the new normal"?

The new normal is gas near four bucks a gallon. It's politicians pledging not to exercise the individual judgment we elected them for. It's jobs currently as uncommon as common sense.

Apparently, the new normal is also an elected official saying something that can't be true, except it is said with such confidence it surely must be true. (Or is that the old normal, with a modern Jabberwockian twist?)

Under Gov. Rick Scott, our state has adopted a new law requiring poor people to first pass a drug test before they can get cash welfare assistance.

Hey, in hard times like these, it's always nice to have somebody worse off to kick around, right?

So here is what the governor said after a legal challenge to this law was recently filed in federal court:

"Yawn," he said, the governor or a policy he supported having been sued 11 times thus far.

No, what he really said about a law that requires citizens to make a deposit in a cup to determine if they deserve help from their government was, "This is for the benefit of children. Welfare is for the benefit of children, and the money should go to the benefit of children. This makes all the sense in the world."

Well, sure it does. Who's against children?

Except … um … how exactly does putting up another obstacle for poor people, many who are trying to feed the very sort of children the governor mentioned, help children? How does a six-month ban on anyone who doesn't pass help put dinner on the table or school clothes on the backs of those children?

The new normal would have you disregard this little factoid: Only 2.5 percent of applicants have failed their drug test thus far. And studies indicate 8.7 percent of the general population uses drugs.

Another detail of the law: Welfare recipients, who by definition are struggling, must pay for the privilege of being tested and be reimbursed if they pass. Since, you know, they have so much ready cash lying around.

Those enthusiastic about this particular piece of legislation must be wincing about who ended up suing over it (besides, of course, the American Civil Liberties Union). Luis Lebron is a Navy vet from Orlando, a single father and college student who is caring for his young son and disabled mother, asking the country he served for a little help. He hardly sounds like your poster guy for potential welfare cheat or someone you'd like to hand one more humiliation and one more hoop to jump through.

The lawsuit's power is in the Fourth Amendment, which protects even poor people against "unreasonable searches" done without reasonable suspicion. Similar laws have bitten the dust, my personal favorite being from Georgia, the one about drug testing candidates for office. Even they deserve protection.

Those Scott suits targeting other eyebrow-raising policies are working their way through the courts. Just this week, a federal judge said contrary to the latest legislative logic (and the National Rifle Association), doctors do have a First Amendment right to ask their patients about guns. Scott of course vowed to appeal. And welcome to Florida's new normal.

The new normal: Fighting state laws that defy common sense 09/15/11 [Last modified: Friday, September 16, 2011 12:24am]

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