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The Other Reason Bloomberg's Wrong About Stop and Frisk

The other piece of big news today was a federal judge finding New York Police Department's "stop and frisk" program unconstitutional. Judge Scheindlin used some pretty scathing language in her nearly-200 page opinion. Phil's article is here.

Mayor Bloomberg has vowed to appeal the ruling, claiming that the stop and frisk practice works and makes the city safer. But as I pointed out in a recent post, while there is research suggesting NYC police have done a lot of good innovating, so far at least the research has not borne out stop and frisk as being one of them.

That is to say, there are other things police do in New York, besides stop and frisk, that have produced a larger than average crime drop than other cities. And they also do stop and frisk, which research hasn't found to help with that.

One more note for now is that we have also written, and more extensively, about NYC as the world's marijuana arrest capital. This is different from the stop and frisk practice, but stop and frisk undoubtedly fuels it.

Federal Judge Finds NYPD's Stop-and-Frisk Practices Unconstitutional

A federal judge Monday found that the New York Police Department's stop-and-frisk search tactics violated the constitutional rights of racial minorities in the city and ordered a federal monitor to oversee broad reforms in the department. Federal District Court Judge Shira Scheindlin did not find stop-and-frisks unconstitutional in themselves, but ruled that NYPD's policy on them amounted to "indirect racial profiling."

NYPD practices stop-and-frisk techniques (nyc.gov/nypd)
The ruling came in Floyd v. the City of New York, in which plaintiffs represented by the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Center for Constitutional Rights challenged the massive program, which has resulted in hundreds of thousands of street searches each year (4.43 million between 2004 and 2012, according to trial evidence), the vast majority aimed at young black and brown people, and the vast majority of which resulted in no findings of drugs or weapons.

The stop-and-frisk program did, however, contribute to the arrest and temporary jailing of tens of thousands of New Yorkers caught with small amounts of marijuana. Possession of small amounts was decriminalized in New York in 1978, but the NYPD effectively invalidated decriminalization by intimidating people into removing baggies of weed from their pockets and then charging them with public possession, a misdemeanor. Such tactics helped make New York City the world leader in marijuana arrests.

In her ruling Monday, Judge Scheindlin argued that the city's stop-and-frisk policies showed disregard for both the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable searches and seizures and the 14th Amendment's equal protection clause. She said the evidence showed that police systematically stopped innocent people in the street without any objective reason to suspect them of wrongdoing.

Scheindlin didn't limit her criticism to the actions of police officers, but also held high NYPD and city officials responsible for what she called a "checkpoint-style" policing tactic.

"I also conclude that the city’s highest officials have turned a blind eye to the evidence that officers are conducting stops in a racially discriminatory manner," she wrote. "Blacks are likely targeted for stops based on a lesser degree of objectively founded suspicion than whites," she noted.

While Scheindlin wrote that she was "not ordering an end to practice" of stop-and-frisk searches, she said that the racially disparate manner in which searches were carried out demanded reforms that "protect the rights and liberties of all New Yorkers, while still providing much needed police protection."

In addition to the outside monitor, Scheindlin ordered other remedies, including a pilot program in which officers in five precincts will be equipped with body-worn cameras to record street encounters and a "joint remedial process" where the public will be invited to provide input on how to reform stop-and-frisk. 

While Scheindlin noted NYPD's expressed purpose in the widespread searches was to reduce the prevalence of guns on the street, she said police went too far in their zeal, stretching the bounds of the Constitution as they did so.

 "The outline of a commonly carried object such as a wallet or cellphone does not justify a stop or frisk, nor does feeling such an object during a frisk justify a search,” she ruled.

And, after hearing more than two months of sometimes wrenching testimony from stop-and-frisk victims, Scheindlin deplored what she called "the human toll of unconstitutional stops," calling them "a demeaning and humiliating experience."

"No one should live in fear of being stopped whenever he leaves his home to go about the activities of daily life," she wrote. And it wasn't just fear of being stopped. Racial minorities in the city "were more likely to be subjected to the use of force than whites, despite the fact that whites are more likely to be found with weapons or contraband."

The city and the NYPD had argued that the targeting of young people of color was justified because they were more likely to commit crimes, but Scheindlin wasn't buying, especially since the searches usually came up empty.

"This might be a valid comparison if the people stopped were criminals," she wrote. "But to the contrary, nearly 90% of the people stopped are released without the officer finding any basis for a summons or arrest." The city had a "policy of targeting expressly identified racial groups for stops in general," she noted. "Targeting young black and Hispanic men for stops based on the alleged criminal conduct of other young black or Hispanic men violates bedrock principles of equality," she ruled.

The ruling didn't sit well with Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has defended and championed stop-and-frisk as an effective crime fighting measure. In remarks after the verdict, Bloomberg lashed out at the judge and the ruling.

"This is a very dangerous decision made by a judge who I don’t think understands how policing works," Bloomberg said."The judge clearly telegraphed her intentions, and she conveyed a disturbing disregard for the intentions of our police officers, who form the most diverse police department in the nation. We didn’t believe we got a fair trial," he complained.

“Our crime strategies and tools -- including stop, question, frisk -- have made New York the safest big city in America," Bloomberg said. "We go to where the reports of crime are," he added. "Those, unfortunately, happen to be poor neighborhoods, or minority neighborhoods.... There are always people that are afraid of police ... some of them come from cultures where police are the enemy. Here, the police department are our friends."

And the police know best, he added. "The public are not experts at policing," Bloomberg said. "Personally, I would rather have [Police Commissioner] Ray Kelly decide how to keep my family safe, rather than having somebody on the street who says, 'Oh, I don’t like this.'"

But the Center for Constitutional Rights suggested that the mayor should grow up and do what's right.

"The NYPD is finally being held to account for its longstanding illegal and discriminatory policing practices," the group said in a statement Monday. "The City must now stop denying the problem and partner with the community to create a police department that protects the safety and respects the rights of all New Yorkers."

New York, NY
United States

Chronicle Book Review: Rise of the Warrior Cop

Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces, by Radley Balko (2013, Public Affairs Press, 382 pp., $27.99 HB)

Whatever happened to Officer Friendly? You may recall that program, designed to improve police-community relations by acquainting children and young adults with law enforcement officers and explaining to them that police were their friends and were there to help. It was popular in the 1960s, but largely died out by the 1980s, although vestiges remain at a few police departments scattered around the country.

There may still be a smiling Officer Friendly on the force somewhere these days, but you wouldn't know it, because he's all dressed up in paramilitary gear, looking like an Imperial Storm Trooper, and that smiling face (if it exists at all) is hidden behind the darkened visor of his riot helmet.

To be sure, Officer Friendly was always a public relations effort. Even back in the halcyon 1960s, his friendliness toward you was largely determined by your net wealth, your neighborhood, and your race. But back then, we still had a working Fourth Amendment and we didn't have the war on drugs at least the drug war that we have today. We didn't have SWAT teams marauding across the landscape. And if not all police officers were really friendly, at least they looked like normal human beings, not winners of a Darth Vader look-alike contest. [Ed: Most police officers aren't on SWAT teams and don't dress like Darth Vader -- but you know what we're saying.]

Written by veteran investigative journalist Radley Balko, who's been covering the drug war, policing, and criminal justice beat for years at places like Reason magazine, the Cato Institute and Huffington Post, Rise of the Warrior Cop explains what happened. It's a long story whose origins go back to colonial days, but in Balko's hands, an entertaining and illuminating story -- as well as depressing and frightening -- told with verve and gusto, meticulously researched, and filled with telling historical detail.

Balko traces the origins of policing back to the colonies and exposes the tension between fears of a standing army and the need for an effective force to maintain public order. He shows how the values (and fears) of the Founding Fathers were expressed both in the Castle Doctrine ("a man's home is his castle") and the Bill of Rights, whose 3rd Amendment forbade the stationing of troops in private homes in peacetime and whose Fourth Amendment protected persons and their homes from government intrusion without a warrant.

Balko's telescoping work brings us rapidly to the dawn of the contemporary period a half-century ago, when rising crime rates and social disorder sparked heightened public concern and increased willingness by the public and the men in blue to resort to ever more repressive and aggressive policing measures to stem the tide of anarchy unleashed by pot-smoking hippies, anti-war activists, and uppity blacks.

And if you want to put a face on the militarization of American policing, Balko has just the man for you: former LAPD Chief Darryl Gates, advocate of professionalized law enforcement, creator of the first SWAT team and proponent of harsh measures against drug users -- he told Congress they should be executed. Gates was first out of the blocks with SWAT, but in the years since then, SWAT teams popped up first in other big cities, then in medium-sized cities, and then in smaller towns and cities across the country.

Originally designed to be used in rare situations involving the need for special weapons and tactics (Special Weapons And Tactics, SWAT), such as riots like the one that swept Los Angeles in 1965 and hostage situations, such as the shootout involving the Symbionese Liberation Army, the group who kidnapped Patty Hearst, in 1974, Balko details how SWAT has undergone "mission creep." From being used rarely and only in the most extreme circumstances in the beginning, SWAT teams now are deployed dozens of times a day, tens of thousands of times a year, and are routinely used against low-level, nonviolent drug offenders.

The application of such aggressive policing gets people killed, including both cops and innocent citizens, as well as criminals. As he guides the reader through recent history, we revisit ugly scenes that regular Chronicle readers may recall, and some that many have doubtless never heard of. The litany of needless deaths because of law enforcement overkill is infuriating -- and terrifying.

Of course, police alone did not militarize themselves. Politicians, especially those trying to win votes playing the "law and order" card, encouraged, enabled, and emboldened police. And, as Balko brilliantly shows, the imperatives of the drug war were a key motivator for political leaders like Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George Bush the Elder, all of whom expanded and deepened the war on drug users and sellers largely for political gain.

The flip-side of the undeniable militarization of American policing is the steady erosion of the Castle Doctrine and the Fourth Amendment. Balko does a real service by detailing a line of Supreme Court decisions dating back decades, but really beginning to bite in the past 30 years, that successively eroded Fourth Amendment protections. While aimed, of course, at only the worst criminals, the loss of those protections is suffered by all of us.

It really seems like America is degenerating into a variety of police state, with peaceful demonstrators confronted by police riot squads, "no-knock" raids that seem more in place in a war zone than in an American city, a cornucopia of federal dollars and surplus military equipment turning every Barney Fife into Robocop. In addition to the imperatives of the drug war, police militarization has only been heightened by our now more than decade-long War on Terror.

But Balko sees some hopeful signs. He credits the rise of social media for casting a glaring light on police abuses and ensuring that the evidence is widely circulated. He notes that enthusiasm for the drug war is lagging and skepticism about government is growing. And he charts the beginnings of a path back to an America where the police are peace officers.

"The best reform to scale back the overly militarized, dangerously civil-liberties averse style of policing that prevails in this country would be to end the drug war all together," he writes, while acknowledging that's not very likely. But barring the end of drug prohibition, the federal government could at least end the federal drug war and the federal incentives to militarized policing. No more federal taxpayer dollars for local police funding, no more Byrne Grants to fund those cowboy drug task forces, no more surplus military equipment to turn local police into occupying armies (at least in certain neighborhoods).

Beyond that, local officials can work to halt the "mission creep" that has seen SWAT go from riots and hostage situations to raiding poker games and bars serving underage drinkers, or doing "administrative searches" of unlicensed barbers, as happened in Miami. And does the Department of Education really need its own SWAT team? And, as Maryland did after the infamous SWAT raid on Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo, states can start demanding transparency and accountability from police commanders in the way they deploy such specialized units.

Rise of the Warrior Cop is an important book and deserves to be read by small government conservatives, civil libertarian liberals, police commanders, and politicians alike.  Balko makes a very strong case that the status quo is a threat not only to our liberties and our way of life, but to the very values on which the country was founded.

After reading Rise of the Warrior Cop, I'm in a bad mood. Some of the people responsible for this militarization of our police, like Darryl Gates, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan are already burning in hell where they belong. Others, like Bush the Elder drug czar Bill Bennett, who also called for the death of drug users, civil liberties be damned, are not there yet, but deserve to be. Still others, like Joe Biden and a majority of the Supreme Court, are currently serving in some of the highest offices of the land. I guess I better not say what I think of them. I don't want to be visited by a SWAT team.

North Carolina Welfare Drug Testing Bill Passes

A bill that would require public benefits recipients to take a drug test upon suspicion they are using drugs passed won final approval in the North Carolina legislature late last week and now heads for the governor's desk. The bill had passed both houses of the legislature earlier this month, but had to win a concurrence vote in the Senate after the House amended it.

Last Thursday, the Senate gave final approval to the bill, passing it 32-4 without debate. That despite concerns raised in the House that it would push drug users away without encouraging them to get help.

The bill, House Bill 392, requires participants in the state's Work First program, which offers cash benefits, training, and support services to families, to submit to drug testing if authorities have a reasonable suspicion they are on drugs. The bill also requires stringent background checks to ensure recipients don't have probation or parole violations or outstanding felony warrants.

Republican senators amended the bill to make it more palatable by inserting language clarifying that drug test results would remain confidential and that people who tested positive would be referred to treatment resources. They also deleted language that required county employees to tell potential recipients they wouldn't be drug tested if they didn't apply for Work First.

"We've worked really, really hard to make this bill fair," said bill sponsor Sen. Dean Arp (R) during debate earlier this month. "I hope my colleagues feel we tried to address their concerns."

He didn't convince Sen. Ellie Kinnaird (D-Chapel Hill), the only senator who took to the floor to speak against the bill before it passed the first time.

"There is no evidence that people who are getting Work First checks are more likely... to be drug users," she said. "This is just a stigma, and one more kicking people when they are down."

And it is a burden on county social service departments and the taxpayers, Kinnaird said. "It's an added burden time-wise, paperwork-wise," she said. "And it's an unfunded mandate."

Imposing drug testing on public benefits recipients has been an increasingly popular move among Republican-dominated state legislatures in the last few years. States such as Florida that have passed bills to require mandatory, suspicionless drug testing have, however, run into problems with the federal courts, which view drug testing as a search under the meaning of the Fourth Amendment and thus require probable cause or a search warrant.

A second generation of public benefits drug testing bills, such as the one passed last week in North Carolina, seeks to get around the constitutional issue by specifying that only beneficiaries who somehow arouse particularized suspicion of drug use are subject to testing. Those laws have yet to be challenged in the federal courts.

Raleigh, NC
United States

Michigan House Approves Welfare Drug Test Bill

The Republican-controlled Michigan House Friday approved a bill that would allow for the suspicion-based drug testing of welfare recipients. The bill, House Bill 4118, now heads to the state Senate.

The bill would set up a pilot program in three counties, to be evaluated after one year. The Department of Human Services would report results to the legislature.

It would require new welfare applicants to undergo a screening for drug use using an "empirically validated substance abuse screening tool," and if the screening indicates the likelihood of drug use, "the applicant is required to take a substance abuse test." The same procedure would apply to existing welfare recipients, who would be required to be screened annually.

Drug testing would be paid for by the state, unless the applicant or recipient tested positive. In that case, he or she would have to pay for the test.

People who tested positive on a drug test could continue to receive benefits if they enter drug treatment, while those refusing or failing to follow treatment would lose their benefits.

The Michigan legislature is following in the footsteps of a handful of other states that have passed public benefits drug testing bills, despite evidence in recent weeks that such programs have few tangible benefits. In Utah, for example, authorities screened more than 4,400 welfare applicants, but found only nine people who tested positive on drug tests.

Lansing, MI
United States

North Carolina Welfare Drug Testing Bill Moving

A bill that would require public benefits recipients to take a drug test upon suspicion they are using drugs passed the state Senate Wednesday. It had already passed the House, and now returns there for a concurrence vote after it was amended in the Senate.

The bill, House Bill 392, requires participants in the state's Work First program, which offers cash benefits, training, and support services to families, to submit to drug testing if authorities have a reasonable suspicion they are on drugs. The bill also requires stringent background checks to ensure that recipients are not probation or parole violators or have outstanding felony warrants.

The measure is part of a package of conservative bills being rammed through the Republican-dominated legislature. This session, Republicans have passed abortion restrictions tied to an anti-sharia law bill, repealed the Racial Justice Act, and disqualified the state from receiving federal funds for benefits for the long-term unemployed, in addition to hammering away at public benefits recipients with the welfare drug testing bill.

Those actions have generated weeks of Moral Mondays protests by social justice and civil rights activists. More than 700 people have been arrested to far in Moral Mondays civil disobedience at the state capitol.

Republican senators amended the bill to make it more palatable by inserting language clarifying that drug test results would remain confidential and that people who tested positive would be referred to treatment resources. They also deleted language that required county employees to tell potential recipients that they wouldn't be drug tested if they didn't apply for Work First.

"We've worked really, really hard to make this bill fair," said bill sponsor Sen. Dean Arp (R). "I hope my colleagues feel we tried to address their concerns."

He didn't convince Sen. Ellie Kinnaird (D-Chapel Hill), the only senator who actually took to the floor to speak against the bill.

"There is no evidence that people who are getting (Work First) checks are more likely... to be drug users," she said. "This is just a stigma, and one more kicking people when they are down."

And it is a burden on county social service departments and the taxpayers, Kinnaird said. "It's an added burden time-wise, paperwork-wise," she said. "And it's an unfunded mandate."

Raleigh, NC
United States

Utah Spent $26K to Ferret Out Welfare Drug Users, Found Nine

Last year, Utah joined the handful of states that have passed laws mandating drug tests for people seeking welfare benefits. To avoid constitutional challenges, the state created a screening process to come up with a reasonable suspicion that certain welfare applicants were using drugs.

But preliminary data reported by the Salt Lake Tribune shows that of 4,425 people screened for drug use after seeking aid, only 813 were deemed to be at high risk of drug use, only 394 were actually subjected to drug testing, and of those, only nine were denied benefits because they tested positive and five are undergoing treatment.

The state spent more than $26,000 to achieve these results. It spent more than $5,000 to administer the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory (SASSI) test to applicants and more than $20,000 to pay for drug testing. Those figures do not include staff costs to administer the SASSI test or the costs of drug treatment.

Of the 813 SASSI test-takers who ranked high, more than 300 tested negative, 163 chose to abandon the aid application process and 137 were denied eligibility based on other criteria. Others had false positives or incorrect SASSI scores or failed to show up for the drug test.

The SASSI Institute claims its diagnostic test is 94% accurate at detecting people with a high probability of substance abuse, but the Utah numbers belie those claims. Of those assessed as likely drug or alcohol abusers by the test, only 1% actually tested positive for drugs. In the best case -- assuming that everyone who abandoned the aid application process or didn't show up for a drug test was actually using drugs -- the predictive value of the SASSI test was under 50%.

"It seems silly to drug test hundreds. It's not worth the money they're spending," Gina Cornia of Utahns Against Hunger told the Tribune, adding that welfare workers could still screen clients for substance abuse the old-fashioned way -- by forging relationships with them.

Geoffrey Landward, deputy director for Utah's Department of Workforce Services, wasn't ready to draw any conclusions.

"People can read the numbers and make their own conclusions," Landward said. "This was a policy decision made by the legislature, signed into law by the governor, and our responsibility is to execute as best we can."

Salt Lake City, UT
United States

Oklahoma Welfare Drug Screening Finds Few Dopers

Last year, the Oklahoma legislature passed and Gov. Mary Fallin (R) signed into law a bill mandating drug screening for welfare applicants. The bill was designed to save the state money by weeding out drug users seeking Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds.

But the new law is finding few welfare drug users. According to the state Department of Human Services (DHS), in the first four months that the law was in effect, some 1,300 people underwent screening to see if there was reasonable suspicion they were using drugs, but only 29 were denied benefits. That is about 2.2% of those screened, a drug use level well below the national average of about 8%.

Some 340 people were deemed by the screening process to be likely drug users, but again, only 29 of them were denied benefits. That is closer to the 8% national average, but also shows that more than 90% of those determined by screening to be likely drug users were not.

And of those 29 people denied benefits, only 16 actually failed a drug test. Thirteen others simply refused to comply with demands for additional testing.

The testing and screening procedures have cost the state $74,000, according to DHS. According to the Okahoma TANF Program, the average TANF benefit is $3,500 a year, meaning at most, the state will have saved about $25,000 net through the drug testing program -- but only if all 29 people are denied benefits for an entire year. The law allows people denied benefits to seek them again after six months if they have completed drug treatment.

There are no figures available on how long those 29 people were denied benefits, but at best, the Oklahoma welfare drug testing programs appears to be a wash, at least when it comes to saving the state money. It's not so easy to put a dollar value on demonizing poor people as drug addicts or humiliating them by forcing them to undergo drug testing to obtain benefits.

Oklahoma City, OK
United States

Good, Bad Drug Measures Die Along with Farm Bill

The Farm Bill (House Bill 1947) died in the House Thursday morning as Democrats rebelled against deep cuts to food stamps. The vote to kill it came after the House had approved separate amendments that would have allowed for limited hemp production, but also would have allowed states to require drug tests for food stamp applicants.

Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) saw his hemp amendment pass the House, only to die along with the farm bill. (wikimedia.org)
In an historic first, the House passed an amendment offered by Reps. Jared Polis (D-CO), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Thomas Massie (R-KY) that would allow hemp to be grown for research purposes. The amendment passed 225-200, despite a last-minute lobbying blitz against it from the DEA, complete with a DEA talking points memo obtained by the Huffington Post.

Still, despite the DEA's concerns that allowing limited hemp production for research would make law enforcement's job more difficult, a majority of lawmakers weren't buying, and amendment sponsors and hemp advocates pronounced themselves well-pleased.

"Industrial hemp is an important agricultural commodity, not a drug," said Rep. Polis. "My bipartisan, common-sense amendment would allow colleges and universities to grow and cultivate industrial hemp for academic and agricultural research purposes in states where industrial hemp growth and cultivation is already legal. Many states, including Colorado, have demonstrated that they are fully capable of regulating industrial hemp. The federal government should clarify that states should have the ability to regulate academic and agriculture research of industrial hemp without fear of federal interference. Hemp is not marijuana, and at the very least, we should allow our universities -- the greatest in the world -- to research the potential benefits and downsides of this important agricultural commodity."

"Industrial hemp is used for hundreds of products including paper, clothing, rope, and can be converted into renewable bio-fuels more efficiently than corn or switch grass," said Rep. Massie. "It's our goal that the research this amendment enables would further broadcast the economic benefits of the sustainable and job-creating crop." 

"Because of outdated federal drug laws, our farmers can't grow industrial hemp and take advantage of a more than $300 million dollar market. We rely solely on imports to sustain consumer demand. It makes no sense," said Blumenauer. "Our fear of industrial hemp is misplaced -- it is not a drug. By allowing colleges and universities to cultivate hemp for research, Congress sends a signal that we are ready to examine hemp in a different and more appropriate context."

Nineteen states have passed pro-industrial hemp legislation. The following nine states have removed barriers to its production: Colorado, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

 "Vote Hemp applauds this new bipartisan amendment and we are mobilizing all the support we can. This brilliant initiative would allow colleges and universities the opportunity to grow and cultivate hemp for academic and agricultural research purposes," said Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp. "It would only apply to states where industrial hemp growth and cultivation is already legal in order for those states to showcase just how much industrial hemp could benefit the environment and economy in those regions," continues Steenstra.

"Federal law has denied American farmers the opportunity to cultivate industrial hemp and reap the economic rewards from this versatile crop for far too long," said Grant Smith, policy manager with the Drug Policy Alliance. "Congress should lift the prohibition on the domestic cultivation of industrial hemp as soon as possible. Allowing academic research is an important first step towards returning industrial hemp cultivation to American farms."

Drug reformers' and hemp advocates' elation over passage of the hemp amendment was short-lived however, as the Farm Bill went down to defeat for reasons not having anything to do with hemp. But the upside to the bill's defeat was that it also killed a successful Republican-backed amendment that would have allowed states to drug test people applying for food stamps, now known officially as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).

"If adopted, this amendment would join a list of good-government reforms contained in the farm bill to save taxpayer money and ensure integrity and accountability within our nutrition system," said its sponsor, Rep. Richard Hudson (R-NC), who added that it would ensure that food stamps go only to needy families and children.

But House Democrats were infuriated by the amendment. Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI), said there was no evidence people on food stamps were any more likely to use drugs than anyone else and that the measure was meant only to embarrass and humiliate people on food stamps.

 "It costs a lot of public money just to humiliate people," she said. "It'll cost $75 for one of these drug tests, and for what purpose? Just to criminalize and humiliate poor people."

"This is about demeaning poor people," added Rep. James McGovern (D-MA). "And we've been doing this time and time again on this House floor."

The food stamp drug testing amendment was just part of an overall House Republican assault on the food stamp program that would have cut it by more than $20 billion. It was that attack on food stamps that led Democrats to walk away from the bill. [Ed: Perhaps not just over the cuts -- a National Journal article reports the drug testing amendment cost it votes too.]

Washington, DC
United States

Texas to Drug Test Some Unemployment Applicants

With Republican Gov. Rick Perry's signature Friday, a bill that would require some people seeking unemployment assistance to undergo drug tests has become law. But critics say it is a waste of time and taxpayer dollars.

Gov. Perry signs unemployment drug testing bill. (governor.state.tx.us)
Perry signed into law Senate Bill 21, which will require applicants trying to find work in occupations where drug testing is already prevalent, such as aviation and truck driving, to undergo written screening for possible drug use. If that screening indicates possible drug use, the applicant would then have to take and pass a drug test. Failure to pass the drug test will lead to a denial of unemployment benefits.

Unemployment benefits are available to people who lose their jobs for lack of work. People who lose their jobs because of drug use are already ineligible for unemployment benefits.

The new law allows people to receive unemployment benefits despite a positive drug test if they immediately seek drug treatment or if they are taking a prescription drug under a doctor's supervision.

"Texas is a state where personal responsibility is very important, and recipients of unemployment benefits have a responsibility to be prepared to work when an opportunity presents itself," Gov. Perry said in a signing statement. "Our system is designed to provide assistance to people through a difficult time in their lives, not subsidize those who would misuse the system to live a drug-abusing lifestyle. This bill protects the resources that should be reserved for those truly in need."

"Senate Bill 21 was one of the most important bills I carried this session because it will help ensure someone who loses a job, through no fault of their own, will be ready to go back to work when another opportunity opens," bill sponsor Sen. Tommy Williams said. "My goal is to send a clear message and to get people help they need."

But neither Williams nor Perry provided any evidence that laid-off workers seeking benefits are any more likely to use drugs than anyone else.

Critics of the new law said it only "adds insult to injury" for workers laid off through no fault of their own. "The bill is in search of a problem that does not exist," the critics added. "There is no trend of increased drug use among those on unemployment. Data are also lacking to suggest people in need of government assistance are more likely to be drug users."

Austin, TX
United States

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