• Monday, January 16th, 2012

Georgia’s House Bill 464 (which would implement drug testing for welfaare recipients) has received some national attention from civil rights groups, but now one of the bill’s key proponents is receiving attention from local traffic cops. Representative Kip Smith was arrested early Friday morning for driving around Atlanta with a BAC of .091, overthe state limit of .08. During the arrest, Smith apparently dropped in the fact that he was a state representative and also claimed he’d only had one beer that evening, 45 minutes earlier. When the officer requested that Smith take a breathalyzer test, Smith initially resisted and tried to convince the officer to take him to a hospital to be tested. The officer explained that you are only tested at a clinic or hospital after being arrested and Smith was not yet under arrest. According to the officer’s report, Smith “seemed to be having a difficult time understanding what I [the officer] was trying to explain to him.”

While Smith has not yet been found guilty of the DUI, it is ironic to see someone who is extremely concerned about drug use among welfare recipients run into some DUI related problems of his own. Smith and other supporters of H.B. 464 have argued that drug testing would prevent state money from going to drug abusers and potentially ease budget concerns by reducing welfare costs. Many members have opposed the bill on grounds of a violation of privacy, which was exemplified by Scott Holcomb’s H.B. 677, which would require Georgia politicians to undergo the same drug testing as the welfare recipients, since politicians are also receiving state funds. Neither bill has yet been voted in.

Although the irony of Smith’s arrest is enjoyable, there is another major problem with drug testing of welfare recipients that has not received enough press: the cost. A similar program in Florida and a proposed program in Rhode Island have both proven to be more expensive for the states, both in the short and long term. Basically, since the welfare recipients can’t afford to pay for the drug tests themselves (welfare recipients tend to not have a lot of extra money lying around), the state volunteers to either pay for the test or reimburse tests negative for illegal substances. While welfare recipients have been shown in some studies to exhibit higher rates of illicit drug use than the national average, it’s still nowhere near a majority of program members, which means almost all of those state funded tests are doing absolutely nothing. The few members that are eliminated by testing simply don’t generate enough savings to make the program cost neutral.

Category: Criminal
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