Blow by Blow on HB82
In the language of the legislature, House Bill 82 is, in part, “An Act relating to welfare and the personal opportunities with employment responsibilities program; requiring controlled substances testing for applicants as specified…” As written, it would mandate drug testing for all applicants for temporary assistance for needy families. So if you lose your job, have hungry kids and nowhere to turn, be prepared to pee in that little cup.
This would prove to be the longest Senate debate of the day. Sen. Charles Scott began by praising the current welfare system as possibly “the best in the U.S.” He says that over the last several years, the number of Wyoming welfare cases (parent and child or just a child) has plummeted from 5600 to 380 – a 94% drop. 205 are children and 117 are adults with a child. Says Scott: “We are stressing work readiness and getting back to work. We think people on a drug program don’t want anything to do with our work program.” He cited similar rules in Florida, claiming only 2% of Florida welfare recipients tested positive for banned drugs, compared with 8% nationwide. Scott called for the Dept. of Health to have the power to test for either illegal drug use with either probable cause or screening tests.
Sen. Floyd Esquibel began with questioning why the Dept. of Health would not be testing for alcohol in troubled welfare homes since that is the most pervasive substance abused.
Sen. Scott replied the bill is aimed at the harm of children through illegal drug use – and alcohol abuse can’t be detected or treated the same way.
Sen. Tony Ross interjected that the bill had no fiscal note and wanted to know the cost of the random testing as well as the training of the employees at the Dept. of Family Services. To enable them to spot and diagnose probable cause cases.
Sen. Scott continued stating that the total cost would be $27,000 – and that current caseworkers have experience dealing with domestic situations involving neglected children.
Senators Chris Rothfuss and John Hastert countered by asking how any investigation could be random and at the same time involve probable cause. Sen. Scott responded by explaining those are separate parts of the same bill – and that the random test would be to inform the Dept. of Health if there is a larger problem in the welfare population.
Sen. Rothfuss commented that the entire plan “sounds like a recipe for bad data”, considering that the random testing would take in 100 samples from a population currently numbering 117 adults. To this, Sen. Scott replied that the testing would last a year which would likely expand the sample pool to 500-600. He added that the Dept. of Family Services has stated it does not have a problem of substance abuse among the welfare parents with children, but emphasized that “until you test, you don’t really know.”
(The implication here is that Sen. Scott has high praise for the professionalism and knowledge of the DFS caseworkers, but doesn’t take accept their conclusion that there is no endemic substance abuse issue in this rather small population.)
Sen. Rothfuss rose again to continue his objections, but then chose to “yield to the body” and took his seat.
Sen. Phil Nicholas then joined the debate and asked Sen. Scott if all the welfare parents needed to be clean of all substances including alcohol, or was it just the illegal drugs that were a concern? He then gave the example of two parents; one a complete alcoholic and the other an occasional pot smoker, and posed the question of which was the greater problem. Nicholas inquired “Are we trying to find parents who are on hard drugs, or are we trying to change behavior?”
Sen. Kit Jennings stood to list his reason for supporting the bill: “Constituents have complained. They say ‘if I have to be drug tested for work, why shouldn’t they?’ So we need to find out through our pilot project if we have a problem.”
Sen. Nicholas then spoke of his professional experience drafting the employment contracts including the conditions for firing problem employees. “Most discharges are for tardiness and alcohol use. I’m not sure that’s an excuse to call for drug testing. Most drug tests are for working around heavy machinery. Not many office workers are tested.”
Sen. Hastert then brought up the potential of false positive results on the drug testing: “I see no allowance for that though they happen all the time.” He then suggested other categories of persons who could be drug tested: “Should there be tests for anyone receiving a subsidy?”
Sen. Scott stood again to defend the bill and its intent: “What is evil potential? Illegal drug use is likely to lead to abuse of children. And – we’re trying to get these people back to work.” Sen. Jennings then informed the chamber that “In my town, the police chief has tried to sign up every business (for testing) so that they can all hang up those “Drug-Free” signs.”
Sen. Bill Landen joined the debate stating: “This is a coffee shop bill” for people to talk about. “It would spend $40,000 to test the least privileged people we know.” Landen said he had spent the previous day calling caseworkers and found no problems requiring a solution. “These are single moms. I question is this worth it?”
Sen. Rothfuss spoke of the potential consequences of the bill: “Maybe 1-2% wouldn’t show up for the test – and their kids would be left hanging. And that’s the best we can hope for from this bill.”
Sen. Ray Peterson took a sterner approach, saying “I signed on to this bill to send the right message.” He spoke of his time receiving a federal loan which required him to do regular reports. “There were rules. This is the last step in getting these people integrated back into society. There is nothing wrong with rules – it’s part of the training to get back into society.”
The final word went to Sen. Hastert who reiterated that “the Dept. already has the authority to test. We don’t need to micromanage them.” With that, the Senate voted 13 Yea and 17 Nay, rendering the bill “Indefinitely postponed”. That’s Legislative language that means “Dead”.