Rep. Mark Venner (R-24/Pierre) has twice sponsored legislation to test South Dakota's welfare recipients for drugs. S.D. Voices for Children policy expert Greg Boris says Rep. Venner will reintroduce that legislation during the 2013 session (assuming, of course, that Rep. Venner survives the June primary).
Testing welfare recipients for drugs is unconstitutional class warfare. (Is Venner proposing drug testing for the wealthy recipients of economic development grants and tax rebates? Of course not.) It's also ineffective policy. Florida got to try out its welfare drug-testing law for four months before a judge enjoined it. Florida lost money:
From July through October in Florida — the four months when testing took place before Judge Scriven's order — 2.6 percent of the state's cash assistance applicants failed the drug test, or 108 of 4,086, according to the figures from the state obtained by the group. The most common reason was marijuana use. An additional 40 people canceled the tests without taking them.
Because the Florida law requires that applicants who pass the test be reimbursed for the cost, an average of $30, the cost to the state was $118,140. This is more than would have been paid out in benefits to the people who failed the test, Mr. Newton said.
As a result, the testing cost the government an extra $45,780, he said.
And the testing did not have the effect some predicted. An internal document about Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, caseloads stated that the drug testing policy, at least from July through September, did not lead to fewer cases.
"We saw no dampening effect on the caseload," the document said [Lizette Alvarez, "No Savings Are Found from Welfare Drug Tests," New York Times, 2012.04.17].
If we're going to subject innocent citizens to warrantless bodily searches, we ate least owe them the courtesy of covering the cost of such unconstitutional searches. And if we do, we end up spending more money than if we got off our judgmental horses and followed the Constitution.
Rep. Venner, if you want to be a practical fiscal conservative, take your useless welfare drug-testing bill off the agenda.