Michigan Approves, Florida Rejects Welfare Drug Testing

By McCarton Ackerman 12/04/14

The Republican-controlled house in Michigan passed drug testing for welfare recipients, while a Florida judge smacked down Gov. Rick Scott. Again.

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Still hasn't learned... Photo via

The Michigan House has overwhelmingly approved a pilot program to drug test welfare recipients, while a federal appeals court in Florida has denied Gov. Rick Scott’s continued campaigns to drug test welfare recipients.

The measure passed the House by a margin 74-35. A substance abuse screening tool would be used and anyone with “reasonable suspicion” of drug use would be required to take a test. Recipients can get their benefits back after a failed test if they complete a substance abuse treatment program, but would lose their benefits if they failed more than one test. The Michigan Department of Human Services will be required to launch a one-year pilot program in at least three counties beginning by October 2015, which could cost the state anywhere from $500,000 to $750,000.

“There’s no financial reason to do this. There's no moral reason to do this," said Rep. Jon Switalski (D-Warren). "It is only to drive a wedge between those who are poor and how the rest of society views those individuals. It’s a shame this legislature continues to pass bill after bill to do so. It’s terrible.”

Republicans in the House also removed a Senate provision to protect children by giving welfare benefits to “an appropriate protective payee” for a child if his or her parent loses benefits because of drug use.

“I think people want to make sure that we give a hand up to those in need, but they’re tired of giving their tax dollars to people who waste it on drugs,” said Rep. Jeff Farrington (R-Utica), who sponsored one of the bills. “That’s no blanket statement, as far as people on welfare being on drugs, but people at least want to see what the numbers are.”

Meanwhile, a bipartisan panel of judges in Florida unanimously upheld a lower court ruling that drug testing welfare recipients is unconstitutional. Judge Stanley Marcus  noted that “citizens do not abandon all hope of privacy by applying for government assistance…by virtue of poverty, TANF applicants are not stripped of their legitimate expectations of privacy.”

Gov. Scott put the law into place by arguing that the drug testing was necessary to protect taxpayers and families, but Judge Mary S. Scriven struck down the law last December. Scott has fervently tried to have that ruling reversed since then, but has continued to be unsuccessful.

“This should be the end of the road for the governor’s crusade,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, which sued the state. “The opinion says that people cannot be forced to surrender constitutional rights as a condition of any government benefit—driver licenses, library cards, student loans and farm subsidies.” A spokeswoman for Gov. Scott said his administration is “reviewing the ruling.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.