Response To Utah Policy’s Critique Of PRIDEinUtah

Posted By on March 30, 2012

Utah Policy’s Jordan Garn published a piece going after PRIDEinUtah for our commentary on the new law requiring drug tests for welfare recipients. Well, we here at PRIDEinUtah always love the debate, so let’s break it down.

First, let me say that I commend Jordan Garn for tackling this troubling issue. Too often in Utah we don’t get to hear all the arguments on any issue, so I appreciate his willingness to participate in the debate.

Jordan Garn

Jordan starts his piece by mocking our mention of the GOP’s widely-recognized War On The Poor, but he doesn’t actually provide any evidence to the contrary, so let’s leave that one alone.

Garn’s argument in favor of this law involves the idea that a law which requires welfare-recipients to undergo drug tests  doesn’t indicate a pervasive assumption of guilt among this targeted group of people. Rather, he says, it provides a “safeguard [for] taxpayer money and serves to help people stay away from drugs.”

That’s a fair assumption if you examine the bill’s intent on a surface level, but it doesn’t hold up if you go any deeper.

First, if the intent of HB 155 is to safeguard taxpayer money (a worthwhile endeavor if you ask me), then the requisite of a drug test should be place on all recipients of taxpayer money, such as state employees, legislators, and the owners of businesses who receive government funds. This of course is not the case, so we find that the only targeted group of these forced drug tests are individuals who’s financial predicaments have forced them to use the welfare system temporarily to get back on their feet.

Any rational person would conclude that if you target only one specific group of people you are assuming that those people are more likely than others to perpetrate a crime. So obviously the effort is not to safeguard taxpayer funds, but rather to weed out supposed drug users from among welfare recipients.

Garn goes on in his article to describe HB 155 as providing “a path of recovery for drug users.” Now, I’m fully supportive of efforts to help people off of drugs, but unfortunately this is a rather flimsy description of HB 155. A responsible path to recovery would be to provide voluntary addiction-recovery programs for welfare recipients, providing them with the opportunity to help themselves out of the dangerous situations addiction can create.

Either Mr. Garn missed the entire point of my previous post, or (entirely possible) I didn’t do a good enough job communicating my feelings.

The issue of HB 155 is every American citizen’s right to privacy. Their right not to be targeted as a potential lawbreaker just because their financial status is not the same as others. A government forcing citizens to undergo drug tests violates our civil rights, no matter what reasons or rationalization it gives. And when they violate the rights of one of us, they violate the rights of all of us.



About The Author

Eric Ethington
Eric Ethington is a journalist, activist, and researcher. His writing, advocacy work, and research have been featured on MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, CNBC, the New York Times, The Guardian, and The Public Eye magazine. Follow him on Twitter @EricEthington.


3 Responses to “Response To Utah Policy’s Critique Of PRIDEinUtah”

  1. Andy Elizabeth says:

    Just a few thoughts/comments that came to mind while I was reading Garn’s critique:

    1. Use of the phrase “bipartisan support” in reference to our State Legislature (in general) is kind of funny, but not really. I’ll forget for the moment that it implies there is a bipartisan support to be had in the first place, and get down to the actual votes involved:

    Out of the 24 total seats held by Democrats (17 in the House, 7 in the Senate), 22 of them voted on this bill – 8 in support and 14 in dissent. Which gives you 36% of the total “bipartisan support” available (In the House it was 5:15 [33%], and in the Senate it was 3:7 [43%]). I don’t care how you run the numbers – none of it equals out to the idea implied by dropping the phrase bipartisan support. [Voting Record —

    2. Ethington’s post was written in response to the bill being signed into law by our Republican Governor. This happened only after the bill was, first, sponsored by 24 Republicans, but not a single Democrat and, second, passed in the Legislature with 100% Republican support. Using a quote, made by a Republican legislator, on what he considers being the real issue at hand (since similar laws in both Michigan and Florida have already been challenged on the very legal basis Garn then tries to assert)? So not the same thing as hearsay. Which is why, I suspect, he took the long way around in saying it. But I get it. It allowed him to indirectly drop the expert lawyer card and appeal to a higher authority in response to the biased journalist.

    3. Adding in the step of applicants being required to complete a written assessment to screen for the “likelihood of a substance use disorder” MIGHT allow Utah to side-step that whole pesky reasonable suspicion detail and allow for a drug test, but it does not resolve the core issue. The question still remains – why only those applying for TANF? And why not, for example, candidates who are running for public office or students applying for financial aid? Wouldn’t requiring them to submit to the questionnaire also be “merely a safeguard” to the taxpayer?

    4. And here’s the real issue which answers the questions: by making the written assessment mandatory to apply, and thus receive, benefits, you are still saying a compelling public interest exists for screening welfare applicants for drug use. You are still singling out a particular group of people, the poor, and making the association — poverty equals drug abuse. You are still doing that even though all the evidence says drug use is no higher in welfare recipients than in the general population. Well, it used to say that. Thanks to Florida’s attempts at perpetuating this nasty stereotype we now have studies which indicated lower drug use rates. This bill does NOT “set up a system where the true problem can be identified and addressed” nor does it safeguard the taxpayer, because; we already know that drug abuse is not the reason people apply for, or are on, welfare. Which is why they are aren’t a financial safeguard either – states end up spending more on these drug testing programs than they save.

    5. The language in the bill brings up a whole new set of concerns. The mandatory questionnaire is how Utah is attempting to side step the suspicionless search factor that other states’ laws have been struck down on. Great. But if you are going to use a self-report survey method as cause – be ready to answer some questions. Just, for example, which survey are you going to use? How has its reliability and validity been measured, what is the cutoff score that establishes the “likelihood” of a substance abuse disorder, and how does that correspond with the legal standard for cause? Unless you can answer those questions, the need for the survey itself becomes symbolic. Which, as it turns out, the Supreme Court has already ruled as unconstitutional — back in 1997 when they said Georgia couldn’t require political candidates running for office to submit to urine tests. Which, again, leaves you with the real issue – why just welfare applicants?

  2. John Merrick says:

    I see bills like this and I wonder to what degree is the sponsor or some close friend or family member financially tied to the company doing the testing. That said I am in total agreement that ALL recipients of tax money, legislators, applicants for government loans and grants. I’d say public employees but most of them are tested already anyway.

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