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Mississippi Public Benefits Drug Test Bill Proposed

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #716)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

Last year saw efforts in numerous states to pass laws requiring that people receiving or applying for public benefits, such as food stamps or unemployment, be required to take and pass drug tests. This year looks to be more of the same, and some Mississippi legislators want the Magnolia State to be first out of the gate.

Mississippi State House
State Sen. Michael Watson (R-Pascagoula) told the Mississippi Press Monday that he will introduce this week a bill that requires recipients of public benefits to take mandatory drug tests and prove their US citizenship. The bill would apply to people receiving Medicaid, food stamps, electronic benefit transfer cards and other state assistance program benefits.

"Our system is abused," Watson said. "Across the state, lawmakers have big hearts and truly want to help people, but we want to help people who also want to help themselves."

Public benefits are designed as temporary help for people going through hard times, he explained.

"To the people who are taking advantage of our generosity and hardworking Mississippian's tax dollars, we want to say no more," Watson said. "The folks that can work need to get a job and stop taking advantage of our system."

The unemployment rate in Mississippi was 10.5% in November, the last month for which state-level data are available. It has hovered at over 10% and above the national average for all of the past two years.

Watson said he has heard opposing arguments that such programs are likely to save states little money, but said it would still be worth it.

"It's a sensitive and an emotional topic, but you have to look at it logically," Watson said. "Even if you break even, it's well worth it in my opinion."

Watson said his bill is modeled on a Florida law implemented last year. He didn't mention that the law was blocked shortly after it went into effect. A Florida welfare recipient backed by civil liberties attorneys successfully sought a temporary injunction in federal court and is awaiting a decision on a permanent injunction.

In Florida, the federal district court found a high probability that suspicionless drug testing will be found to be an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment. That ruling was based in part on a US 6th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling in 2003 that threw out a Michigan welfare drug testing law -- the last suspicionless drug testing bill to be passed before Florida's.

Other states have passed drug testing bills that seek to avoid the constitutional issues by limiting drug tests to those benefits recipients officials have reasonable grounds to believe have been using drugs. Such measures have been passed in Arizona, Indiana, and Missouri, and have so far not been tested in the courts.

Ed Sivak, director of the Mississippi Economic Policy Center, told the Mississippi Press such efforts are misguided. "This is a policy proposal that's looking for a problem," Sivak said.

Sivak cited studies of programs in Idaho and Louisiana that found only small percentages of people tested positive and that the programs could cost as much as they save. He also said the state could have to pay to defend the bill if it becomes law and is challenged.

Legislators seem split along party lines on the welfare drug testing issue.

Rep. Steve Holland (D-Plantersville) said he saw no benefit to it. "And for what reason?" he asked. "What value does it offer? Other than further humiliation of mankind?"

But Sen. Bruce Wiggins (R-Pascagoula) said he supported the bill. "If you're getting, essentially, free healthcare from the government, you don't need to be doing drugs," Wiggins said.

Watson's bill could go before the Drug Policy Committee, where he is vice-chairman, or before the Public Health and Welfare Committee, on which Wiggins sits.

Mississippi isn't the only state moving fast on the issue this year. A hearing on an unemployment drug testing bill is set for this week in South Carolina, and movement is happening in other states, too. Look for a feature article on the issue next week.

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.


kickback (not verified)

Are all people that receive government money going to be required to piss in the cup or just a selected few ? How about the poor ? Politicians ? Contractors ?  Maybe just the down and out , the poor .

Tue, 01/10/2012 - 7:55am Permalink
MoparCzy (not verified)

Yet another state leaps to join the mentally disadvantaged.  They admit that it won't save the state any money but still want to drug test people with tests that are not accurate just to deny people in need help.  Tell your friends to contact their state and federal legislators and tell them to end cannabis prohibition and re-legalize it.

Sat, 01/14/2012 - 3:11pm Permalink
Hendley (not verified)

I can't believe that people in the USA would actually be willing to throw our freedoms away like its nothing.  Do people actually believe that once government is given the power to drug test select citizens that it will stop at just welfare recipients?  After that is accepted, they will then start testing anyone that applies for a business license, driver's license, or applies for a bank loan. Then what happens when government-run health care takes over?  Will they justify testing everyone that needs surgery or certain procedures?

Is this the kind of country people want to live in?     

Sat, 02/04/2012 - 9:25pm Permalink
MS Resident (not verified)

As a recipient of state funded programs, I am more than willing to submit to any drug test they wish.  However, I will fail.  I will not fail because I abuse illegal substances in any way, but because my medicines I take for health problems will fail me.  Now with that being said, does that mean I should be excluded from programs or that because mine are legal I should receive more than my fair share from taxes I do pay in?  No.  Some people take illegal substances for the right reasons too.  They can't afford to pay outrageous prices for doctors, so they have to beg, borrow, or steal medication for relief from illnesses that they should see a doctor for but can't afford to. 

You want to spend my tax dollars on something... spend it on more free clinics for people who really need to see a doctor and can't afford it.  You want to spend my money on something... spend it on creating more jobs for those who are able and willing to work, and can't get a job because thanks to high unemployment have been terminated from employers who have received aid to hire new employees then fire them as soon as the aid runs out so they don't have to take money out of their own pockets leaving those people who want to work unable to be hired by anyone else because of that.  

Does drug abuse happen without good cause?  Absolutely.  Should those who abuse illegal substances and end up getting someone killed over their stupidity be punished?  You bet.  Should we legalize seemingly harmless drugs (such as cannabis) and use the taxes from them to help increase the state budget for all of these other wonderful programs that would really help?  Yes, yes we should.  Think of it like this... prohibition was enacted because too many people felt that alcohol was the cause of all the people's problems right?  It didn't work.  People still found a way to get it, and those who provided it made a killing doing so.  More people drank during Prohibition than in any other time.  Why?  Because it was illegal and therefore exciting!  Repeal prohibition, put a lot of unsavory people out of business, and put more money back into the economy from the taxation of alcohol. 

People are going to get their drugs no matter what the cops say.  People will continue to do it because it's illegal and therefore exciting to say "I got away with it!"  People assume that legalizing it will make us somehow spawns of Satan because of it.  People want it to go away.  Well it won't, and you're naive or stupid to think it will.  So, since it won't... why not make some extra money off it?  Why not use that source to fund programs that will actually do more good for the people?  Bet most don't even know there is a policy in place for the taxation of it.  All the government has to do is start issuing tax stamps for it.  They could start issuing the stamps tomorrow, and there's not a thing that could be done about it because it's already a policy in place to make it legal.

Our country is trillions of dollars in debt.  Our citizens pay trillions to drug cartels.  Anyone else see the problem here?  This is all coming from someone who has never once smoked anything beyond a cigar or cigarette in their life.  Never taken anything that wasn't given by a doctor.  However, it is -my- right to say that if others want to do this, please do me a favor and at least charge the hell out of them for doing it like you do for just buying a pack of smokes!  Less people would die from some badly done bathtub gin if the government would regulate it like they do everything else. 

Tue, 10/02/2012 - 1:23am Permalink
Chris Connell (not verified)

I live in Mississippi and have my entire life. I am not on food stamps, welfare, or anything else. I do not plan to ever be as long as I have the capabilities to work. 

However i think this is just a huge waste of money. Just like a previous comment states, "They admit that it won't save the state any money but still want to drug test people with tests that are not accurate just to deny people in need help." This will do nothing besides waste more of our states tax dollars by buying the drug tests, paying for people to administer them, and any other expenses that will come from this.


As a resident i have met numerous people who smoke marijuana around here and have found nearly all of them to be outstanding, hard-working people. 

What the community and the politicians do not understand is that it is the poeple who have a cocaine or meth problem. Those are the drugs we should be worried about. Not Marijuana, which this state REFUSES to recognize as beneficial.

Meth and cocaine have been a growing problem in this state since I was a teenager (I'm 30). Our state is actually a decriminalized state for marijuana, which no cop, courtroom, or judge seems to uphold very well. If they do wish to drug test these people, they should do random drug tests for hard drugs such as meth and heroine. Marijuana users in Ms get such a bad rep. because of the way the politicians, and police forces portray it. 

We SERIOUSLY need a marijuana reformation in this state.

Tue, 05/14/2013 - 11:11am Permalink

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