Just after the state Senate convened for the day and before laggard Democrats got into the Senate chamber, Alabama Republicans moved quickly last Wednesday to pass a bill that would require drug testing of welfare recipients who have a history of drug use.
The Democrats cried foul, but no rules were broken. (“There is no shame in this Legislature,” Sen. Quinton Ross, D-Montgomery, told the Birmingham News.) It was just another case of the GOP seeing an opportunity and seizing it. Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh, R-Anniston, who engineered the move, and Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Montrose, who sponsored the bill, high-fived each other when the measure passed.
This effort, Pittman said, “is an attempt to get people off drugs.” That’s a noble goal, no doubt.
Under the bill, welfare recipients with a drug conviction within the last five years would be tested. The first time they tested positive they would receive a warning. If they tested positive when tested again, they would lose their personal benefits but would continue to receive benefits due their children. A third positive test and the children’s benefits would have to be administered by a third party, such as a relative.
In comparison, Florida’s program to drug test welfare recipients caught few drug users, did not cut down on the number of welfare applicants and cost the state more than it saved. So, Alabama Republicans have decided they will solve the welfare-recipient-on-drugs problem the same way they approached the problem of failing schools: take away the money, and the one creating the problem will solve it in order to get the money back.
Pittman has admitted that there would not be many Alabamians to test — maybe a couple of hundred a year. (The bill also does not require drug testing for those who apply for food stamps.) Yet, why go to the trouble and expense and expose the state to yet another lawsuit?
It’s because there is a large constituency that believes people receiving public assistance are using the money they get to buy drugs or other things for which taxpayer money should not be used. Just because there is scant evidence to back this up, and considerable evidence to suggest otherwise, supporters of this bill have given that constituency what they wanted.
If it gets through the House and the governor signs it, we can sit back and watch as the number of welfare recipients using drugs declines — or not.