By Scott Tibbs, July 12, 2011
Florida governor Rick Scott signed a law mandating drug tests for welfare recipients this week, with the ACLU fighting it and arguing that it is unconstitutional. Governor Scott signed a similar executive order earlier this year mandating that state employees be drug tested. The Los Angeles Times reported in March that this "would require testing of each employee 'at least quarterly'."
It it fairly common for employers to screen applicants for illegal drugs. I've worked for a couple companies that have required that I submit to a test for drugs as a condition of employment. It is reasonable for employers to want to make sure that potential employees are drug-free, and someone who does not want to submit to such a test can always seek employment elsewhere.
But is it really necessary to test state employees four times a year? Are state employees really that untrustworthy? If there is reason to believe that a state employee may be using drugs, a drug test is reasonable, as are drug tests for people operating heavy machinery or working in other high-risk jobs. But, again, four times every year? Legality aside, that is excessive and not in the spirit of limited government that Republicans are supposed to support.
Drug testing welfare recipients, like drug testing state employees, is reasonable. As a condition of getting something of value from the state, people must trade something else. If they choose not to submit to drug testing, they can forgo the benefits they are seeking. No one is forced to take a drug test. It is actually compassionate to hold people accountable as a condition of receiving benefits, because it helps them avoid self-destructive behavior.
Now, I am a long-time critic of the war on drugs and I have become increasingly alarmed by the use of paramilitary SWAT teams in drug raids. Look up the story of Kathryn Johnston in Atlanta, a 92-year-old woman who was mowed down in her own home by a SWAT team looking for drugs. I am worried that we are giving up far too much liberty in our efforts to fight not only drugs, but crime in general.
That said, I do not see drug testing for state employees or welfare recipients as a terrible thing, provided the tests are not so frequent as to be overly intrusive. A prospective state employee or someone looking for government assistance can choose not to submit to the test by not applying for employment with or benefits from the state. It is a voluntary trade off that is part of an agreement between consenting adults.