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Missouri, Tennessee Ponder Legislator Drug Tests

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #720)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

Awash in a whirlpool of proposals to subject welfare recipients to drug tests, legislators in two states, Missouri and Tennessee, are proposing that legislators themselves should undergo drug tests. In Missouri, a welfare drug testing bill was signed into law last year, while in Tennessee, a plethora of drug testing bills are currently before the legislature.

They are only two of about three dozen states that have seen drug testing bills aimed at welfare recipients, recipients of unemployment benefits, or other public beneficiaries introduced in the past year. But they are among the first to see the push expand to target legislators.

In Missouri, Rep. Rick Brattin (R-Harrisonville) has introduced House Bill 1225, which would require members of the General Assembly to undergo random, suspicionless drug testing at their own expense during the legislative session. Members who test positive for illegal drugs or drugs not lawfully prescribed would be immediately removed from office and barred from seeking elected office again for two years.

"Hardworking taxpayers don’t want their money to be subsidizing other people’s drug use," said Rep. Ellen Brandom (R-Sikeson) last year, explaining her push to test welfare recipients.

What's good for the goose is good for the gander, said Rep. Brattin.  "I think we should live by the same standard we are asking others to live by," he told the Kansas City Star. "Our salaries are paid by taxpayers, so we should assure them we aren't using that money on drugs."

The bill has been assigned to the House General Laws Committee, but it has not yet been scheduled for a public hearing.

Meanwhile, across the Mississippi River in Tennessee, two Democratic legislators, state Rep. Johnny Shaw and state Sen. Reginald Tate, are backing a bill, House Bill 2433 and its Senate companion bill, SB 3524, which would require the speaker of each chamber of the general assembly to develop and implement a drug testing program for legislators and staff.

Under the bills, state legislators and staff would be subjected to random, suspicionless testing for drugs and alcohol. A positive test result or a failure to take the test would be referred to the leadership of the chamber for disciplinary action.

They said the bill was in response to numerous Republican bills calling for drug testing for welfare recipients, workman's compensation recipients, state employees, private sector employees, and even making it a crime ("internal possession") to fail a drug test.

"I don’t think lawmakers should ever vote to make any laws they don't first and foremost abide by," Shaw told the Associated Press. "My question is, what lawmaker would not vote for it?"

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) might be one. He told the AP drug testing legislators wasn't his highest priority. "Most people would like to see people who don't work for their government paychecks to get tested first," he said.

The bills to drug test politicians make for good statehouse politics, but even if they were to pass, they are probably doomed. In a 1997 decision, Chandler v. Miller, the US Supreme Court threw out a Georgia law requiring drug tests for elected officials, saying it violated the Fourth Amendment's proscription against warrantless searches.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Samson (not verified)

So, it seems that the supreme court thinks only elected officials should be allowed to retain their 4th Amendment rights; while the rest of us(U.S. citizens) are denied those same(supposedly) "inalienable" rights.?  I feel less like an american w/every passing month....and more like a feudal serf of a land; far and long ago.  I wonder when history will finally start to air new episodes...instead of the same ol' reruns???

Mon, 02/06/2012 - 8:24pm Permalink
MelFranks (not verified)

I think bills like these are a bad idea, the issue is not whether the morons who make these laws are willing to give up their fourth amendment rights.

The issue is that laws like these are simply unconstitutional, regardless of whether they are aimed at legislators or welfare recipients. What's going to end up happening is eventually one of these lawmaker drug testing bills will be passed, and then they will say "see, if we are willing to do it you should have no problem with it either."

There are already drug testing exceptions for government employees with regard to jobs that involve the safety of others or security. This is where it needs to stop.

Tue, 02/07/2012 - 6:56pm Permalink
kickback (not verified)

Who could`ve in a 1000 LSD trips , let me think , would think , Politicians now , in an election year , allow drug use to become a political football during an election year ? Never mind the alcohol that will be flowing freely at the political conventions. Cocaine in the " womens " room ? Political elections have become the new Halloween . Thank God for Ron Paul . 2012 .

Sun, 02/12/2012 - 2:36am Permalink
Paul McKannon (not verified)

How about allowing these legislators to pass the bong around at each session during debate before voting on laws that destroy people's lives? Maybe then we'd have fewer of Dr. Strangelove's political opportunistic laws that only serve the machine, which includes the drug testing companies. Come on, don't Bogart that joint, Senator! 

Wed, 02/15/2012 - 1:22am Permalink
James Payne (not verified)

I have had neighbors in the past that smoke dope, go get groceries with  food stamps, drink colas, steak on a daily basis!   Drug test them all!   If they can buy cigs, beer and pot test them!

Tue, 03/06/2012 - 10:12pm Permalink

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