Welfare Drug Testing Bill Defeated in Republican Committee

Marijuana joint (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Marijuana joint (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

HB 1076 to drug test welfare recipients was heard in the House Health and Human Services Committee this morning.

Prime Sponsor Rep. Lynne DiSanto began testifying by asking the members of the committee to look at the merits of the bill rather than a lot of the hysteria concerning the bill that’s been seen and heard in the “mainstream” media and social media.

DiSanto said 13 states have passed similar laws to drug test welfare recipients, and 18 states have proposed such legislation. South Dakota is the 19th.   DiSanto said she believes the taxpayers are owed the oversight and fiscal responsibility this bill is designed to provide. DiSanto also handed out a copy of the proposed Department of Social Services (DSS) budget for this year, which asks for a 37.3% increase in funding. DSS is one of the bureaucracies that continues to grow at the taxpayer’s expense, and a 37% increase in one year is very significant.

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DiSanto also said public attention to this bill has been enormous, and 80% of the people who contacted her were in favor of the legislation. Out of the 20% who were opposed, many sent messages several times, apparently in an attempt to make opposition seem greater than it actually was.  In Virginia, polling found about 75% of the people there were in support when they passed their legislation.

Already, police, doctors, nurses, federal employees, military personnel, truck drivers,  construction workers, Wal-Mart employees, all are drug tested, said DiSanto. She said that approximately 60% of private sector employees are drug tested, and factoring in government employees, it comes to close to 80% of workers are drug tested.

DiSanto said that Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a check some welfare recipients receive in the mail (that can be cashed and spent anywhere), and the average payment to a family in South Dakota is $432 a month.

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DiSanto said she believes children, people with addictions, and the taxpayers will benefit from the bill. She said the screening process would serve to refer people on drugs to services to help them clean up, children will benefit because benefits can actually reach the children instead of going to pay for drugs, and the taxpayers benefit because their investment is being looked after.

There are also numerous other programs to feed and help children, DiSanto pointed out, including WIC, the backpack program, the school lunch program, as well as eight (in the Rapid City area) locations that provide food to low income people. The bill would not take needed food away from starving children.

Also testifying in favor of the bill was Jeanie Montgomery, an LPN with a bachelor’s degree in human services and has worked for the Department of Social Services (DSS), and is a licensed addiction counselor.

Montomery pointed out that, depending on the program, welfare recipients are required to sign agreements stating that the money they receive from the taxpayers is not to be used for alcohol, illicit drugs, gambling. Obviously, if our government has found it necessary to spell out that taxpayer funds are not to be used for these things, then it has been found that some welfare recipients DO try to use taxpayer funds for these things. It should not therefore be “insulting” for the government (which is supposed to protect the taxpayer’s interest) to verify that the recipient of taxpayer funds is not in fact using those taxpayer funds for illegal drugs.

She also cited the mission statement of DSS which is, among other things, to provide cost-effective services to promote healthy and independent families (how can you have a healthy and independent family when the parents may be using drugs and spending money that could be spent on groceries on drugs?). South Dakota parenting guidelines state that parents should not be around children while using recreational drugs. Again, social services must have identified this type of behavior as a problem in order to have seen a need to specifically address it and condemn it in its official documents.

Florence Thompson, a certified school psychologist also testified in favor of HB 1076. Thompson said that behavior that is rewarded will be repeated. When someone receives a benefit they did not work for, despite behaving in a way that should disqualify them for that benefit, they will continue behaving that way when they see they can get away with it. Thompson said she had been told by people she has counseled that the possibility of getting caught by a drug test has helped them stay clean.

Senator Betty Olson also spoke in favor of the bill, stating that the bill was originally her idea, but that when Olson approached DiSanto about sponsorship, DiSanto wanted to run with it as prime sponsor. Olson said that there are two reservations in her district, the Cheyenne River Reservation and the Standing Rock Reservation, where poverty and unemployment is very high, as is drug and alcohol abuse. Olson said her children, as they got older and got jobs, had to face drug testing to get and keep their jobs, and it is people like this who pay for the benefits used by people who receive taxpayer benefits while spending money on drugs.

Olson said that some of the hysteria from the Left on this bill claimed it presumes guilt. However, Olson pointed out that when you vote, you have to produce an ID to prove that you are eligible to vote, and to get a license, you have to prove you are eligible with various documentation.  We always have to prove eligibility for what we get, she said, and this measure is no different.

Testifying in opposition was Lynne Valenti of DSS.  Valenti stated that federal law prohibits drug testing for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (something that in and of itself is immoral), but SNAP is only one of the programs that would be affected by this bill.  Valenti focused on the fact that many of the beneficiaries of these programs are children…while ignoring the reality that children don’t get the check out of the mailbox, cash it, and go to the grocery store to spend it on the groceries they need–their parents do all this, and it is the parents who sometimes use illegal drugs, and it is the parents who would be drug tested, not the children.

DSS and the social services industry always testifies against bills like this (even when RINOs sponsor the bills).  The social services industry sees welfare recipients as their client and who they represent, NOT the taxpayers. This is always clear from the tone and content of their testimony.  The taxpayer is viewed as nothing more than a host to provide nourishment for their clients, regardless of the consent or lack thereof of the host. At best, they seem to be oblivious to the fact that there are people out there who will take whatever they can get away with, and care not a whit about responsibility.  At worst, DSS may not even care about this reality.

Terrance Dosch of the South Dakota Council of Mental Health Centers and the South Dakota Council of Substance Abuse also testified against the bill. He said he and his constituency believe the bill lacks merit, and would be an impediment to welfare recipients. He said that it was unclear which “controlled substance” the bill wanted to test for, and that if we wanted to “deprive someone of eligibility for a benefit,” there would need to be a confirmatory test in addition to the drug screening (it remains unclear whether cops, firemen, military people and Wal-Mart employees also get this “confirmatory test”). Mr. Dosch seemed real concerned with “depriving somebody of eligibility for a benefit” during his entire testimony…not so much concern for depriving against their will a hard-working taxpayer of the money they earned and possibly giving it to someone who is already spending grocery money on drugs…and not so much concern for the children living in a home where the parent(s) might consider recreational drugs more important than groceries.

Sister Kathleen Bierne of the Presentation Sisters in Aberdeen also spoke against the bill. She said the bill was unnecessary and “offensive” (no mention of the taxpayers who might find it “offensive” to be forced against their will to surrender money they earned to people who may be using money that otherwise might be spent on groceries for recreational drugs). She said the bill seemed more focused on finding people on drugs than assisting those in need.  (I think the point is that if you can afford drugs, you aren’t really in need of a cash infusion from hard-working taxpayers).

One thing that the social services testimony does reveal in stark clarity is the fact that charity and compassion programs belong where the constitutionally should be and were for most of our nation’s history: in the private sector. Government charity programs are fundamentally incapable (both on a practical basis, and on the basis of all the Leftist requirements that insulate against personal responsibility) of accurately discerning real need from fraudulent need, as well as identifying and remedying the root causes of poverty and need. Private charity is capable and disposed to do this, because it is closer to individual and because it fundamentally grasps the causes of most poverty in America–and is mentally prepared to deal with it. Government charity has proven over and over and over and over that not only is it unconstitutional, it is incapable of doing the job responsibly.

No amendments of any type (i.e. to change the bill to make it better or more palatable to anyone) were suggested by anyone on the committee before Rep. Jacqueline Sly, a “Republican,” made the motion to kill the bill, which was seconded by Rep. Karen Soli, a Democrat. It was then killed on a 9-4 vote.

Some of the peanut-gallery comments I saw from some RINOs online after the defeat of the bill was predictably pathetic.  At best, it was more concerned with how low-information members of pop culture might view “those mean old conservatives” than it was about fiscal and personal responsibility–which is the norm for liberal “Republicans.”  They pee their pants at the thought that evil people might not view them positively.  They are all symbolism over substance.  But it was equally clear that, as I’ve pointed out before, their derision was little more than a hypocritical (RINOs have supported and even sponsored previous drug testing bills) attempt to marginalize and smear a conservative who won’t kiss the ring and lick the boot of the establishment.

Yet again we have seen a “Republican” supermajority legislature do what we used to expect from Democrats: vote against limited government, fiscal responsibility and personal responsibility.  Democrats don’t even need to run candidates; they’re getting their job done with a “Republican” supermajority.

Vote to Kill the Bill:

Campbell Nay Conzet Yea Deutsch Yea
DiSanto Nay Greenfield (Lana) Nay Haugaard Nay
Holmes Yea McCleerey Yea Sly Yea
Soli Yea Wollmann Yea Heinemann (Leslie) Yea
Munsterman Yea

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Bob Ellis has been the owner of media company Dakota Voice, LLC since 2005. He is a 10-year U.S. Air Force veteran, a political reporter and commentator for the past decade, and has been involved in numerous election and public policy campaigns for over 20 years. He was a founding member and board member of the Tea Party groups Citizens for Liberty and the South Dakota Tea Party Alliance. He lives in Rapid City, South Dakota with his wife and two children.
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