Posted By Eric Ethington (Author) on March 26, 2012
Governor Herbert signed HB 155 by Representative Brad Wilson (R) into law this afternoon, continuing the GOP’s attack on the poor and working-class. While the bill may have been well intentioned, it crosses the line of failing to recognize a human being’s intrinsic worth and labels them as nothing but potential criminals.
HB 155 requires that all recipients of welfare in Utah complete a survey questionnaire designed to determine their likelihood of participating in drug use, and placing mandatory drug screenings on those who are determined to be at a greater risk.
Let me say that I understand the ideals behind Representative Wilson and Senate-sponsor Aaron Osmond’s bill. The motivation arises from the idea that some welfare recipients may use welfare monies to fund drug habits, which isn’t a pleasant thought. Who among us would be pleased to think that our tax dollars might be used to purchase illegal substances?
But the fact still remains that HB 155 makes the automatic assumption that Utahns are little more than potential criminals.
I had a brief conversation with Representative Jeremy Peterson (R) about the bill, and his words truly summed up the Republicans’ arguments on this for me. “Wouldn’t you agree that drug-use is more prevalent among poor people?” he asked. No, I do not agree with that. Perhaps certain kinds of drugs are more prevalent among those unfortunate enough to be down on their luck, but that doesn’t mean that other kinds of drugs (like crystal meth or speed) aren’t just as prevalent among those in other tax brackets. Illegal substances are rampant among all economic groups, some are just more noticeable than others. The simple fact is that the percentage of drug users among welfare recipients is actually significantly lower than among the general population.
To suggest that someone is more likely to be on drugs just because they are poor, is little better than suggesting that a black person is more likely to rob a bank, or someone of middle eastern heritage is more likely to be a terrorist. All are arguments of those more willing to embrace stereotypes than to delve into the waters of indicative factors and individual situations.
Now I do have to give some credit to Representative Wilson and Senator Osmond, at least HB 155 does include the additional step of the questionnaire rather than to force all welfare recipients to directly take drug screenings. It’s less abrasive than the now infamous proposed bill in Florida which didn’t have the slight buffer of the survey.
But we have got to start viewing people for who they really are. Despite the stereotypes, the majority of people on welfare aren’t there permanently, but rather use the program as a temporary crutch after a devastating life event until they can get back on their feet. These are fathers and mothers and families who are going through the hardest moments of their lives, and are now being told by their government that just because they are temporarily in a tough spot they’re probably going to start shooting up. To place such an egregious assumption on them is not only immoral, but dehumanizing.
Want to make sure tax dollars aren’t being used to pay for coke or heroin? Perhaps we should look at those who have excessive tax-payer-provided income. Perhaps legislators should be required to take drug tests randomly during the session.