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More Q than A

Mar 9, 2012 - By Steven R. Peck

One of the most talked-about bills floated during the just-completed session of the Wyoming Legislature called for mandatory drug screening for welfare recipients in the state.

After some initial enthusiasm and a positive vote or two, the bill died because most legislators agreed there wasn't enough evidence to warrant legislation -- at least for the time being.

It was a textbook example of an idea that sound pretty good to a lot of people at the beginning but wilts a bit under scrutiny. It would be hard to argue in good conscience, especially in Wyoming, to support public food, housing, employment or health care assistance for a drug abuser, and it didn't take long for this idea to gain support initially.

The bill provided an easy platform for tough-talking pronouncements about law and order, responsible behavior, accountability for lawless behavior and the like. But before long, the bill began to take on the characteristics of a familiar entity in any legislative chamber -- the good old "solution looking for a problem."

Is there an issue in Wyoming of public assistance being wasted on drug abusers? Where? How many cases? Are they isolated occurrences or chronic ones? Are such cases more prevalent than other welfare recipients working the system unfairly or dishonestly?

Who would administer the drug tests? Where would they be administered? How often? Who would evaluate the tests? Would everyone be subject to them? If there were to be exceptions, under what circumstances? Could a person who tested positive apply again later?

Would the results be shared with law enforcement? With future employers? With school officials? With child protection agencies?

How much would the testing program cost? Where would the money come from? Would it be taken from welfare budgets? Would there be an appeals procedure? At whose expense? Would it apply to all forms of assistance? If not, which ones?

The questions mounted faster than the answers did, -- never a good platform upon which to build a new state law. Some diehards stuck with their support of the idea "on principle," not enough of them to keep the bill alive.

There might well be merit to this idea. That means it is well worth more study, perhaps in the interim period this year and/or during next year's general session, which will be twice as long as this year's budget session was.

This was a can of worms the legislators backed away from this year, but additional study might make them willing to pry the lid off next time around.

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