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Business Casual: Here We Go Again

 

If you are a disciple of the “Let’s-do-something-even-if-it’s-wrongheaded-and-causes-problems-we-didn’t-think-through” school of legislation, you’ll probably like a couple of bills that were prefiled in the weeks prior to the General Assembly session.

HB 668 and SB 292, which are similar, would require drug tests to be administered to all Georgians who apply for welfare; anyone who fails the test would be ineligible for benefits. Cost of the tests would be paid for by the applicants. (Those who pass will be reimbursed.)

The testing will involve, according to both bills, “collection of bodily fluid specimens” at the time the applicant is filing for benefits. The Department of Human Services would be charged with “assuring minimal privacy invasions” during the collection process. The bills require certain procedures in handling and shipping the collected fluids to assure they get where they need to go.

Anybody else starting to see a problem or two? Privacy problems, sanitation problems, time problems, space problems, dignity problems – for the collectors and the collectees?

Fortunately, both versions of the bill exempt children under the age of 18. Can you imagine handing a plastic cup to a two-year-old?

Let’s state the obvious: Nobody thinks it’s a good idea for money that is intended to help feed, clothe and house Georgians who are struggling financially to be used to purchase illegal drugs.

But is this kind of legislation really the way to solve any such problem – by treating all welfare applicants as drug abusers? By assuming all are guilty and requiring that they pay to establish their innocence?

And if you can live with the loss of a civil liberty or two, think about the cost to the state. Can all this additional “collection” be accomplished without extra employees, extra supervision, extra facilities, extra supplies, extra aggravation? Those who fail will bear the cost of the test; but those who pass – likely the great majority of those who are given the tests – will get their money back.

What’s the point of adding cumbersome and expensive requirements that are likely to cost more than they would ever save the taxpayers?

This same kind of “let’s do something – anything” thinking was in evidence last year when the state legislature rushed to pass the anti-immigration bill that has been so injurious to Georgia’s agriculture industry – crops unpicked, money lost – and is proving costly to many other industries as well.

Thoughtful solutions to real problems require serious consideration and deliberation and an understanding of the consequences. It would be nice to think that our legislators would try this route rather than simply going for a quick fix that might make a good sound bite on the evening news but is really not much of a fix at all. You don’t get points for just doing something. You get points for doing something that works.

SB 292 was introduced by Sens. John Albers (R-Roswell), David Shafer (R-Duluth), Chip Rogers, (R-Woodstock), Buddy Carter (R-Pooler), Steve Gooch (R-Dahlonega) and William Ligon Jr. (R-Brunswick). The House version was introduced by Reps. Jason Spencer (R-Woodbine), Penny Houston (R-Nashville), Wendell Willard, (R-Sandy Springs) and Paulette Braddock (R-Hiram).

For those who appreciate a little irony,  another drug-testing bill, HB 667, was prefiled in December, this one by Rep. Scott Holcombe (D-Atlanta). It would require that all members of the General Assembly be tested for illegal drugs. Costs would be borne by the individual lawmakers and could not be paid from campaign funds. Those who fail the test would be subject to removal from office. The bill specifically includes marijuana as an illegal drug. 

Section 1 of Holcombe’s bill begins, “It is the intent of the members of the General Assembly to lead by example and through their example demonstrate the importance of ensuring a drug-free community” and goes on to say, “It is the intent of members of the General Assembly to be subject to the same drug testing requirements to which Georgia residents may be subjected.”

Or, as your grandmother and mine might have said, “What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.”

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