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Michigan First State To Force Welfare Applicants To Pass Drug Tests

Thursday, 06 May 1999

Welfare applicants must pass a drug test to receive financial aid, according to a new law signed by Gov. John Engler (R) last week. The measure, dubbed "Project Zero Tolerance," is the country's first to require drug testing as a condition of eligibility for public assistance.

"It is unprecedented for a Legislature to single out low-income citizens and compel them to prove they are 'drug free' as a requirement for financial aid," NORML Executive Director R. Keith Stroup, Esq. said. "This policy insults thousands of law abiding citizens and would probably not survive a constitutional challenge."

House Bills 4090 and 4091 mandate Michigan's Family Independence Agency (FIA) to implement "a pilot program of substance abuse testing as a condition for family assistance eligibility" in three counties by October 1, 1999. Those already receiving financial aid will be subject to random testing to maintain their eligibility. The Legislature intends to expand the program to test all state welfare recipients by April 1, 2003.

A fiscal impact report by the Senate estimated that implementing the pilot program could cost state taxpayers more than $1.6 million dollars. "This is an enormous waste of tax dollars that should be spent improving people's lives, not on punitive measures," Stroup said.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the National Organization for Women (NOW), Michigan affiliate, the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence of Michigan, and others opposed the proposal.

NORML Legal Committee member William Rittenberg of New Orleans criticized the drug testing program and said the NORML Foundation may challenge it in court. Rittenberg successfully struck down provisions of a 1997 Louisiana drug testing bill that required all residents receiving moneys from the state, including those holding state contracts, to pass a urine test.

Congress amended federal law in 1996 to encourage states to drug test welfare recipients and deny financial aid to those who test positive.

For more information, please contact Keith Stroup of NORML @ (202) 483-5500 or William Rittenberg of the NORML Legal Committee @ (504) 524-5555. To download a copy of this legislation, please visit: michiganlegislature.org/isapi/nls_ax.dll/BillStatus?LegSession=1999 -2000&DocType=HB&BillNum=4090.