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Rep. May Reviving Failed and Foolish Welfare Drug-Testing Bill

Grrrr—Rep. Elizabeth May (R-27/Kyle) says she’s bringing back the same bill to randomly test welfare recipients for drugs that we had to beat back last year:

She adds that the state has to work harder to ensure that people are using the benefits, such as TANF, for what they are designed for.

The bill would require the Department of Social Services to randomly test two percent of the adult applicants for the cash benefits upon application for benefits [Kevin Larsen, “Random Drug Testing for TANF Recipients Bill Emerging,” KCCR, 2017.01.08].

I’ll guess I’ll just have to bring back the same arguments I offered last year in response:

Suspicionless drug testing is still unconstitutional. Drug-testing welfare applicants is still scientifically and medically unsound and fiscally irresponsible. And welfare recipients still test positive for drugs at a lower rate than the general population [CAH, “Here We Go Again: Phil Jensen and Liz May Propose Random Drug Tests for TANF Applicants,” Dakota Free Press, 2016.02.06].

If the Legislature insists on testing recipients of government checks for drug use, then we should expect May’s bill to include a provision to authorize Capitol security to conduct breathalyzer tests on legislators as they arrive for committee hearings at 7:30 a.m. (We could also tack that provision onto A.G. Jackley’s SB 29… if we wanted to see that bill die a swift death.)

The three sober Senate Appropriations Committee Republicans who helped kill this nonsense last year—Senators Haverly, Peters, and Tidemann—are on Senate Approps again this year. They have Democrats Nesiba and Sutton to help them stand against welfare drug-testing. Let’s hope May’s cranky conservative redo follows the same path as last year’s.


  1. MD 2017-01-09 12:42

    Shall we look at the medical field for advice on the subject?
    A widely utilized medical reference text (UpToDate, article (Paywall): states:

    “Despite widespread use, DOA (Drugs of Abuse) screening is of extremely limited value in the acute clinical management of most patients [1-3].”

    Why is this? Well, a lot of really common stuff doesn’t show up, examples include:

    – Opioid screening tests typically detect morphine, a common metabolite of not only heroin but all natural opioids (eg, codeine). Synthetic opioids, including fentanyl, meperidine, methadone, pentazocine, propoxyphene, and tramadol, are not detected by routine opioid screening.
    – Screening for amphetamines produces more false-positive results than any other DOA testing, as chemicals that share a basic chemical structure with amphetamine are present in many over-the-counter medications and herbal supplements.
    – Benzodiazepines that do not undergo metabolism to oxazepam, such as alprazolam (Xanax), clonazepam (Klonopin), lorazepam (Ativan), midazolam (Versed), and triazolam (Halcyon), are not detected by any screening test that relies on the detection of oxazepam.

    This leads to the conclusion:
    The apparent simplicity of the results provided with a DOA screen, typically reported as negative or positive for the presence of a given drug, often misleads clinicians. Clinicians must consider the type of testing being performed, level of suspicion for drug use or exposure (ie, pretest probability), purpose of obtaining the test, and likelihood of false-positive and false-negative results.

    In a legal realm, they had a bit to say as well:
    “In the United States, DOA testing of pregnant women has caused controversy. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that DOA testing of pregnant patients without their knowledge constitutes an unreasonable and unconstitutional search if performed without the woman’s consent [42]. This ruling resulted from a lawsuit filed by 30 South Carolina women, two of whom served prison sentences. The women, who underwent DOA testing without their knowledge, were subsequently arrested after testing positive for cocaine and were prosecuted for child endangerment and distribution of drugs to a minor. This case cannot and should not be presumed to be applicable to other clinical settings, patient groups, or jurisdictions, but may provide insight into the problems that can arise when obtaining DOA testing purely for law enforcement purposes without a patient’s consent.”

    Makes it sound like its a lot more trouble than its worth, appealing false positives and being played a fool by false negatives sounds like a lot of cost for little utility. Sure, one could come up with a test for all of these substances, but that would require significantly more cost. While I realize this covers the medical realm only, I feel the evidence of the lack of utility helps to support the lack of utility in welfare drug screening.

  2. Spike 2017-01-09 14:11

    Elizabeth May owns Kyle Grocery in Kyle, SD. Part of a wonderful food desert area. I’m sure they sell plenty of crappy profitable high fat junk food to these same people she wants to “test”.

    She is elected by people on the rez that are willing to respect her for whom she is. living among them and being part of their community. She should have campaigned on this platform but she has become a typical self righteous politician. Suspicionless drug testing she is talking about is obviously targeted at the very people she represents. Nice one May. For an “educated person’ she sure doesn’t know the facts around drug testing of innocent people very well.

    Maybe all that junk food they sell should be tested for the fat and chemical content and if it fails she doesn’t get paid her extreme markups.

    Instead of acting like an self righteous overseer Ms. May could work harder to help her county get out of the extreme poverty its in.

  3. caheidelberger Post author | 2017-01-09 14:34

    “A lot more trouble than it’s worth”—right on, MD! But all that research and science is so plain and unemotional. Isn’t it a lot more satisfying to talk about poor people as if they are druggie scum, so we can rationalize not doing our American and Christian duty to help them?

    Spike, what does it take to get voters on the Rez to put May’s attack on them together with their thinking when they vote? Or did the people she’s attacking just not show up in big enough numbers to outweigh the voters who think of themselves as above helping their neighbors?

  4. jerry 2017-01-09 15:24

    I am wondering how much Liz and her family have received in subsidies from her Uncle Sam (us’ins that pay taxes) for her ag operation. Will she and the rest of her clan step up and show all how to pee in the bottle?

  5. Spike 2017-01-09 15:54

    Jesus and Mary would have to be drug tested under Ms. Mays righteous judgment.

    I don’t know Cory, the good people of Pine Ridge that could run for this office struggle with going to Pierre in a Republican Vacuum. It would take a strong candidate to move her, she is entrenched with the republican ranchers and farmers living off the government(many would require testing under Jerry’s subsidy plan) and has enough democrats that recognize her name that it would take some effort. But it could be done.

    Jerry, Avery May of Kyle, SD (Liz husband) 1995-2014…. $201,920. But they deserve it. They are poor farmers.

  6. jerry 2017-01-09 16:37

    Wowser Spike! Many thanks. When ya got the cash rollin in like that, you can buy a store with cash left over. Then you get to sit in your ivory tower and whiz on the heads of the poor below you as they are just not smart enough to game the system like you have proven you can do. What arrogance. $20,000.00 each year is on helluva lot more than some poor white guy getting a couple of bucks a week to put some beef on his bones. Speaking of beef, Liz and her clan do not seem to realize that food subsidies for the poor put prime steak and taters on her families dinner table. Yep, the government actually buys beef for commodities as well as letting consumers use the SNAP for the purchase of beef.

  7. Roger Cornelius 2017-01-09 16:48

    And don’t forget May’s SNAP benefits, yeah she gets them.
    Her mercantile must make a nice profit at the hands of SNAP.
    You don’t suppose the state will provide us with the dollar amount her store gets in benefits.

  8. jerry 2017-01-09 18:05

    Double wowser gents. That SNAP benefit payoff in both categories could and should be interesting. This looks like one more case of open mouth and insert foot. I hope that when this turkey comes up someone will mention her past of getting a government check without any preconditions. We taxpayers are like that when we try to treat our fellow human beings like human beings without embarrassing them for being poor, just like we treated Liz and her clan.

  9. Tim Higgins 2017-01-09 18:28

    “Despite widespread use, DOA (Drugs of Abuse) screening is of extremely limited value in the acute clinical management of most patients [1-3].”

    MD, if this is true why is drug of abuse urine screens very popular in The ER?

  10. Sam@ 2017-01-09 19:11

    Many companies, require employers including truck drivers must submit to drug screening tests as a requirement for their employment. Why should those on welfare be exempt? If you on public assistance you should be required to perform the sales tests as the people paying the bill.

  11. jerry 2017-01-09 20:09

    One is employment the other is survival. Better hope that you stay healthy bub as you may need this life saving support.

  12. jerry 2017-01-09 20:20

    Sam@, who pays for that employer requested drug test for CDL drivers?

  13. grudznick 2017-01-09 20:55

    Seems like whether the people on welfare or the people providing the welfare pay for the drug tests, it’s all coming out of the people providing the welfare’s pocket. I wonder if Ms. May has thought about that.

  14. Spike 2017-01-09 21:01

    So Tim and Sam are agreeing that all state legislators, anybody getting a check from the state or federal funds should get tested. All those college students on scholarships or grants… everybody that gets any assistance. Ranchers with disaster payments… every corner market owner getting SNAP checks for food stamp sales, bankers getting a percentage of state guaranteed loans for their clients, etc etc etc….

  15. jerry 2017-01-09 21:03

    Likely not Mr. grudznick. As a republican welfare queen, you can bet she will levy it all onto taxpayers. I wonder how much she will rake in this year, should be a pretty good haul.

  16. CraigSk 2017-01-09 22:16

    I wonder how many SD legislators will buy stock in companies that sell drug testing kits…if it would pass. Wait, would that be wrong or is that ok in SD…probably depends on the future of IM 22. It is all so confusing.

  17. Adam 2017-01-09 23:17

    “If you don’t treat poor people worse than everyone else, they will never learn to stop being poor.” -ConservaChristians

  18. John 2017-01-10 06:09

    The proposal does not go far enough. Amend it to read that the corporate executives and board members must have semi-annual drug testing as a preceding condition to receiving state funding.

    We should all support morning breathalyzers for admission to the state capitol building. The capitol building should be an alcohol-free zone with minor celebratory exceptions: inauguration, holiday party (festivus), end of session, no more a handful of times per year to not allow exceptions to overrun the rule.

    Remember that before Jesus passed out the loaves and fishes his disciples conducted breathalyzer tests on members of the crowd.

  19. caheidelberger Post author | 2017-01-10 07:17

    Hear, hear on that extension of scope, John! Those corporate executives can afford more blow! They’re more likely to be using, right? And they’ll have more of our money to buy more dope than any single welfare recipient can get from any single welfare check!

    You may be satirizing, but I would honestly support making the Capitol an alcohol-free zone. Government should be conducted with absolute sobriety. :-)

  20. Dana P 2017-01-10 08:02

    Sam… employer can require potential employees to do all sorts of things. Background checks, drug tests, etc. they are a private entity. They don’t have to follow “little things” like search and seizure laws.

    When it comes to the government? It is a whole different ballgame. The gov’t has to abide by the constitution. Requiring drug tests prior to receiving benefits has been deemed unconstitutional many times. (illegal search) And it is obvious! The government has to have probably cause to require a “search”. Just because you receive benefits, is NOT probable cause.

    Florida tried this experiment before they were told what they were doing was illegal. Funny thing. The company/s that were doing the drug test (paid for by tax payers and recipients) were businesses specifically picked out by the govnernor. So it was a great way to funnel money into his cronies pockets.

    Are there welfare recipients that are abusing the system? Sure. But it is so minimal compared to those that it is helping. And the amount of money that welfare recipients receive, versus, how much money/subsidies corporations receive in this country? Doesn’t even compare. Are you sure, Sam, that you are targeting the right people in your stereotypical opinion?

  21. Darin Larson 2017-01-10 08:16

    How is getting the government to invade the privacy of its poorest citizens part of the conservative cause? I thought conservatives were supposed to be for less intrusive government. What I’m finding out is that many so-called conservatives are for eliminating government from their own affairs, but they are all for government invading the private affairs of others. Making people pee in a cup without good cause is an outrageous and demeaning way to treat our fellow citizens.

  22. MD 2017-01-10 08:28

    @Tim Higgins – They are popular in the ED because of tradition, dogma, and a lack of alternatives but, they are slowly falling out of favor. As with many diagnostic tools utilized in the medical field, there are limitations, which sometimes are not well understood by those with the power to order the studies.

    A limited bit of background in case you do not believe me can be found here:

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