OUR OPINION: Some drug tests ripe for legal issues

Today’s start of the 2014 legislative session is expected to be brief if not perfunctory, but soon enough legislators will wrestle with the hundreds of issues defined in prefiled bills and put forward by leaders in each chamber and in the executive branch.

Some are good ideas, some have no merit, and some present particular sensitivities on points of constitutional law and general usefulness.

Gov. Phil Bryant proposes to require drug testing for all clients receiving TANF – Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – a program for poor families with children up to age 18.

The governor concedes he has no evidence that clients of the federal/state program use illicit drugs with greater frequency than other people. Bryant said he wants to make sure TANF clients, who are required to find work, are fit for work.

Bryant is among proponents in at least 28 other states who have sought the drug-testing requirement. The reception among legislatures generally has been cold, an appropriate response.

Everyone agrees that assistance programs should not be abused by the illegal habits or activities of clients, but without compelling evidence of widespread abuse what is the point?

In our conservative state, governmental overreach is considered almost sinful, and surely adding costs for a testing program without strong evidence of necessity falls under the heading of overreach.

Drug testing of welfare clients in Florida was halted by a federal judge, and a similar program in Georgia was suspended because of the ruling in Florida.

The constitutional point revolves around whether testing one category of aid recipients is unfair, illegal singling out of a group. In more practical terms, if TANF clients why not Social Security, Medicaid and all other entitlement programs’ clients, too?

In 2013, at least 29 states considered drug testing for people who receive cash assistance from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, but only two measures passed, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Wisconsin even repealed a law in 2012 that required employers to report failed tests.

Then there’s the appearance of making political hay out of a non-issue.

No one has offered compelling evidence. Let this temptation from Gov. Bryant die; move on to issues like adequate education that can reduce drug use across the population in the long term.