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Kansas Passes Law To Drug-Test Welfare and Unemployment Recipients

By Nicole Flatow on April 18, 2013 at 12:00 pm

"Kansas Passes Law To Drug-Test Welfare and Unemployment Recipients"

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Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill into law Tuesday to drug-test recipients of both welfare and unemployment benefits, making Kansas the first state in 2013 to implement the ALEC and Big Pharma-backed legislation. The law passed with a Democrat-added provision to test legislators as well, although that provision is substantially weaker. The Wichita Eagle reports:

The drug testing bill lets the Department for Children and Families require urine tests of any welfare recipient suspected of using illegal drugs. That could be triggered by a person’s demeanor, missed appointments or police records.

Opponents of the bill said that may leave the decision open to people’s biases. But the bill was swiftly approved by the House 106-16 and backed by the Senate on a 29-9 vote. […]

Senate Bill 149, effective July 1, also bans anyone convicted of a drug-related felony from getting welfare for five years. Those convicted a second time lose benefits for life.

The testing program for unemployment recipients is similar, although Department of Labor officials will require employers who usually drug test job applicants to submit a list of people who applied and didn’t get a job because they failed a pre-employment drug screen. […]

The state estimates it will need to hire four more employees to deal with drug testing and treatment management under the bill. The drug testing program and treatment is estimated to cost about $1 million the first year, after any savings from people losing benefits.

At least eight other states have laws that test public benefit recipients or applicants, and at least 29 introduced new proposals this year. A federal law passed last year explicitly authorized drug tests for unemployment beneficiaries. These state bills have proliferated in spite of several recent court rulings blocking state drug-testing laws as likely unconstitutional, and early indications show that the laws actually cost states more money. Just this past February, a federal appeals court blocking Florida’s law said, “The simple fact of seeking public assistance does not deprive a TANF applicant of the same constitutional protection from unreasonable searches that all other citizens enjoy.” The court also noted that there is “nothing inherent to the condition of being impoverished that supports the conclusion that there is a ‘concrete danger’ that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use or that should drug use occur.”

The Kansas law does not go quite as far as Florida’s mandated testing requirement. Rather than requiring every applicant to complete a drug test, it requires “reasonable suspicion” to perform drug tests of already enrolled beneficiaries. Those who fail the first test may have their results retested at their own expense, and will be reimbursed by the state if a subsequent test is negative for drug use. If they test positive for drugs, they are required to complete drug treatment and job skills programs before they are tested again and reconsidered.

In signing the bill, Gov. Brownback called drug addiction a “scourge on Kansas,” but the drug-testing regime is imprecise at best in addressing addiction. Drug tests are much more successful at detecting marijuana, which stays in the body longer, than they are at detecting more potent drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine. And while those testing positive for drugs are mandated to attend a drug abuse program, the test does not require any assessment of whether the person suffers from addiction. Instead, it leaves an already-indigent person without a source of income for six weeks while they complete a mandatory program. What’s more, the provision that removes those convicted of any drug-related felony from the rolls for five years will ensnare low-level offenders. In Kansas, a second conviction for possession of any amount of marijuana is a felony.

While the law is not as constitutionally abhorrent as Florida’s blanket testing provision, there is reason to believe it is also unconstitutional.

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