By Graham Kilmer
On Tuesday March, 3 members of the State Joint Finance committee met during a hearing with Secretary Reggie Newson of the Department of Workforce Development.
One of the issues discussed at the hearing was the language within Governor Scott Walker’s recent budget proposal which calls for the drug testing of citizens seeking unemployment insurance benefits.
At the hearing Senator Lena Taylor asked Newson whether during his department’s research they found any states with similar programs had ruled them unconstitutional.
To which Newson replied, “There have been challenges, yes.”
In December 2014, a Florida federal court of appeals found a similar program requiring welfare recipients to submit to a drug test to be unconstitutional and a violation of fourth amendment rights. http://www.governing.com/topics/health-human-services/tns0florida-drug-test-welfare.html
According to Representative Leon Young, Lawmakers are already discussing the prospect that the proposed legislation may be unconstitutional.
Representative Gregory Hintz also raised concern, during the hearing, about the possibly unconstitutional nature of the program written into Gov. Walker’s budget proposal.
Hintz also expressed his apprehension about language in the proposal which may allow private sector employers to submit the results of a prospective employee’s drug test to a state agency.
Newson informed Hintz that he didn’t have the answers to his questions currently, and that the language surrounding these issues would be clarified during the rule making process.
However, Hintz voiced his displeasure with the prospect of passing the budget, and waiting for answers to his questions until the rule making process.
Sen. Taylor also shared her concern, during the hearing, about passing the budget without answers to questions she believes to be important.
“You want me to vote for something to-be-determined?” questioned Taylor.
Several legislators spoke up at the Joint finance Committee hearing in order to question whether the cost to implement and run the proposed drug testing programs was going to be beneficial to the tax payers.
Senator Taylor believes the state currently doesn’t have the necessary infrastructure to efficiently implement a program like this.
“We know we don’t have the services on the ground.” said Taylor.
According to a July 2012 report on Florida’s similar drug testing law, “The $30 spent per test ended up costing an aggregate of $45,000 more than the state saved in welfare payments.” http://www.governing.com/topics/health-human-services/gov-does-drug-testing-welfare-recipients-save-money.html
According to Senator Taylor, one of Wisconsin’s existing drug treatment programs costs about $8,000 to $9,000 per person for treatment.
When Senator Taylor asked Newson if the state had allocated enough capital to ensure its efficiency, he replied that he could not speak to a “Hypothetical”.
During the hearing Newson iterated that the goal of the proposed legislation was to ensure that those seeking unemployment insurance were eligible for work.
According to Newson, being eligible for work is a requirement for anyone seeking unemployment assistance, and that a failure to pass a drug test may impede a citizen’s eligibility for work.
This proposed legislation may effectively require a drug test for a job that otherwise would not have required one, according to Representative Hintz.
Representative Young said he was “very disappointed” when he first saw the language that would require someone seeking unemployment insurance benefits to submit to a drug test.
Young called the legislation “mean spirited”.
Young believes that the current proposal does not get at the root of the problem of drug dependency.
“Its not going to cure anything” said Young
Rather, that this legislation would hurt the people of Milwaukee, especially it’s “citizens of color”, said Young.
Representative Young is currently working on a petition to remove the language that calls for the drug testing of citizens seeking unemployment benefits outlined in the current proposal.
Young doesn’t believe that the state is going to save the taxpayers any money in the testing and subsequent treatment outlined in the Governor’s budget proposal.