Being Poor Isn’t Probable Cause

The Indiana ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of a disabled, indigent Posey County woman who was denied financial assistance because her disabilities prevented her from taking a drug test required by the Black Township Trustee.

A number of courts around the country have held that conditioning benefits on passage of a drug test violates the United States Constitution. (Before these programs were struck down, the states that imposed such tests also found far fewer abusers than would be expected in the general population. That makes sense, since people having trouble affording food are unlikely to have money for drugs. But hey–we all know that poverty is evidence of moral turpitude…)

The lawsuit against Black Township and Lindsay Suits, the Black Township Trustee, was filed on behalf of Mary Neale, a resident of the township. Neale previously received aid from the trustee only after submitting a urine sample and passing a drug test. Last year, however, Neale’s physical disabilities made submitting the sample impossible, so she was unable to apply for benefits.

The ACLU’s lawsuit points out that the Township Trustee’s “policy of requiring applicants for assistance to take a urine drug screen violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Further, the trustee’s failure to accommodate Neale’s disability when she sought to apply for assistance violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.”

“The Constitution prohibits this type of suspicionless search and seizure,” said Ken Falk, ACLU of Indiana legal director. “It is wrong to condition the receipt of government benefits on the waiver of fundamental rights that protect all of us.”

The Fourth Amendment requires government actors to have probable cause to conduct a search. Probable cause has been defined as “articulable reasons to believe that a given individual has violated the law.”

Someone needs to explain to the growing ranks of eager-beaver “public servants” that neither poverty nor skin color are probable cause.


And You Thought HJR 3 Was Dumb….

Am I the only resident of the Hoosier state who cannot comprehend the priorities and prejudices–let alone the analytical abilities–of Indiana lawmakers?

It’s bad enough that the most high-profile battle of this session–HJR 3–has given the rest of the country the impression that Hoosiers are 19th Century yahoos determined to buck the headwinds of change. What’s worse is that all the high-profile jockeying to keep GLBT folks in second-class citizenship status has sucked the wind out of everything else going on–obscuring all the other stupid decisions being made at the Statehouse.

One example: HB 1351 which requires the drug testing of TANF recipients. This measure, which will cost taxpayers nearly 1.5 million in fiscal 2016-17 alone — is moving steadily through the General Assembly, despite the fact that in states that have passed such laws , like Florida, courts have held it unconstitutional–and despite the fact that very few abusers were found. (If I had to guess, I’d bet the percentage of drug abusers in the General Assembly is substantially higher than the percentage on welfare. Drugs cost money, and TANF pays $288 per month for a family of three. You try living and buying drugs on that.)

As of March 2013, there were just 26,364 individual Hoosiers receiving TANF.  Of that number, 23,128 were children. So Indiana is proposing to spend a million and a half dollars to test three thousand adults for drug abuse.

Dumb or not, this costly measure of dubious constitutionality and demonstrated ineffectiveness is speeding merrily through the process.  Meanwhile, SB 413, a bill that  would encourage TANF families to accumulate the assets they need to transition off of public assistance [and save taxpayer money], is not expected to go anywhere–despite the fact that other states that have implemented that measure have saved money and helped poor people move toward self-sufficiency.

It’s hard to escape the suspicion that our legislators not only don’t want to help poor folks–they want to punish them for being poor. One reason there are so few adults receiving TANF is that we have already made the process so difficult and demeaning that only 2.9% of impoverished Hoosiers participate.

I guess GLBT folks aren’t the only people Indiana doesn’t want.


Sauce for the Goose

Yesterday’s post about the effort to expose the “reasoning” behind Senate Bill 371 got me thinking about equal treatment and its notable absence from other brilliant proposals currently wending their way through Indiana’s legislative process. (As you may recall, SB 371 “protects” women who want prescriptions for abortion pills, and the proposed amendment would similarly have “protected” men wanting pills for erectile dysfunction.)

For example, what would a more balanced approach mean for the bill requiring drug testing of welfare recipients?

So far, the arguments against that measure have been boring–the typical logical, evidence-based objections that routinely fail to persuade our lawmakers. The Indiana Coalition for Human Services, for example, has pointed out that Florida implemented such a program and found it to be ineffective and costly (only 2% tested positive). Others have noted that the available tests are not well-suited for a “pass/fail” situation. Legislative Services estimates the first-year cost to be 1.2 million, much more than is likely to be saved. Etcetera.

Wrong arguments! Logic has rarely prevailed at the Statehouse, and cost-effectiveness is not a concept embraced by our elected culture and class warriors.

So I say, pile on! Not only should TANF recipients be tested, so should all the other welfare moochers who are enriching themselves at taxpayers’ expense. Let’s start with corporate welfare, with the beneficiaries of crony capitalism–the coal-gasification boondoggle,the business enterprises that have persuaded lawmakers to grant them favorable tax treatment, the owners of sports teams we subsidize, and those like ACS that are making big bucks providing services like parking meters–taking a major chunk of the money that the city would otherwise have available for public purposes.

Perhaps we could require drug testing as a condition of getting an education voucher. And let’s not forget all the elected officials–10,400 of them, thanks to Indiana’s archaic township system–who are suckling at the public you-know-what. In fact, we should test everyone paid with tax dollars–teachers, police officers, firefighters, clerks in the City-County Building…Surely, those of us whose tax dollars pay their salaries are entitled to know whether our money is going to substance abusers.

Proponents of drug testing for welfare recipients justify that proposal by pointing to the expenditure of tax dollars. By that logic, we should test everyone we are supporting or enriching with public funds.

What’s sauce for the goose ought to be sauce for the gander.