Civil liberties

Another GOP Governor Commits to Wasting Money on a Probably Unconstitutional Program


Michigan Governor Rick Snyder has signed a pair of bills into law that will see recipients of social assistance drug tested based on whims.

The Senate and House bills, which were signed into law Friday, will create a yearlong pilot program in three counties that will screen welfare recipients and applicants to determine whether or not they’re suspected of using drugs. If they are, the applicants or recipients must submit to a drug test. If the test comes back positive, they will be referred to a treatment program, and if they choose not to enter the program, they will lose their welfare benefits. Applicants and recipients will also lose their eligibility for welfare benefits for six months if they refuse to take a drug test, but according to a statement from the governor’s office, the benefits can be restored once they submit to and pass a drug test.

The state or someone representing the state will determine if an applicant is merely suspected of using drugs and, if they are deemed suspicious, they will be forced to take a probably unconstitutional drug test. The vagueness of the law almost guarantees that it will not be applied equally because it relies on personal judgement. Not all applicants will be drug tested. Only those who are suspicious will be drug tested.

What guarantee is there that those responsible for screening aren’t racists? What guarantee is there that those responsible for screening aren’t misogynists?

I say this program is probably unconstitutional because this has been tried before, most notably in the state of Florida, and it was ruled unconstitutional. The selective nature of the Michigan law would seemingly elevate the intrusive nature of the process because a search is conducted based on vague personal judgment.

But, wouldn’t you know, Governor Rick Snyder says he is here to save people from themselves.

“We want to remove the barriers that are keeping people from getting good jobs, supporting their families and living independently,” Snyder said. “This pilot program is intended to help ensure recipients get the wrap-around services they need to overcome drug addiction and lead successful lives. We’ll then have opportunity to assess effectiveness and outcomes.”

A similar program was implemented in Florida and only 2.6 percent of those tested came back positive for drugs. The other 98 percent were not required to pay for their tests (because they tested negative) which left Florida taxpayers on the hook. In addition to being unconstitutional, the program was wasteful.

I have no doubt that proponents of the Michigan law, and similar laws in other states, are not at risk of ever being subjected to this process. It’s the right thing to do as long as it’s only being applied to those people.

It should be noted that those who tested positive for drugs under the program in Florida tested positive for marijuana which, as you know, is on its way to being legalized. I have a hunch that more than 2 percent of the Michigan legislature and affluent supporters of the law have smoked weed or used other drugs in the past week if not this morning.