GOP gubernatorial hopeful Hal Heiner proposes drug testing welfare recipients in latest TV ad

04/07/2015 02:49 PM

Republican gubernatorial candidate Hal Heiner will push a proposal to drug test welfare recipients if elected to office, according to a new television advertisement that began airing Tuesday.

Similar measures have increased in popularity among GOP politicians in recent years despite vehement outcry from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union.

“I am simply asking welfare recipients to do what many employees in Kentucky are already required to do,” Heiner said in a statement. “If working Kentuckians can be required to take drug tests, it is certainly reasonable to expect those who are benefiting from their tax dollars to do so as well.”

The ad offers few details about Heiner’s drug-testing proposal and continues to beat the “Frankfort outsider” drum central to his campaign. The 30-second spot, titled “Bold Conservative,” can be viewed here:

Heiner spokesman Doug Alexander said the candidate’s drug-screening proposal calls for random testing, attempting to alleviate constitutional concerns that derailed Florida’s 2011 law requiring screens for public assistance applicants. Based on estimates, Heiner’s plan will cost less than others brought before the Kentucky General Assembly in recent legislative sessions, Alexander said.

Florida recently dropped its appeal of a ruling that the state’s drug-screening law constitutes an unlawful search and seizure, failing to request the U.S. Supreme Court review the lower court’s ruling by a March deadline, according to the Associated Press.

ACLU of Kentucky Executive Director Michael Aldridge reiterated his group’s opposition to such proposals and called drug-testing laws for welfare recipients “misguided policy, based on the false premise that poor people are more likely to be drug users than other members of our society.”

“Mr. Heiner’s proposal would have frightening implications for the privacy rights of all Kentuckians, not just the poor,” Aldridge said in a statement to Pure Politics. “It could open the door to drug testing of virtually any person who receives government benefits including those who receive business loans, student loans or tax deductions for mortgage payments.”

Twelve states have passed laws that require drug testing of beneficiaries in some form, and only Georgia and Oklahoma require drug tests for all public assistance applicants while the remaining states only practice suspicion-based screening, according to an analysis by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a possible GOP presidential contender, proposed in January testing recipients of benefits like food stamps, Medicaid and unemployment while offering free substance-abuse treatment and job training for those who test positive, The Green Bay Press-Gazette. Walker’s proposal, while lacking specifics, has appealed to conservative voters on the campaign trail and was a key plank in his re-election efforts last year, according to The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Proposals to screen public assistance recipients have fared poorly in Kentucky’s General Assembly, losing steam and co-sponsors in the Democrat-led House over the years. Drug-testing bills have been consistently filed in the legislature since 2008 without clearing the House Health and Welfare Committee.

One of Heiner’s GOP primary opponents, Agriculture Commissioner James Comer, co-sponsored such bills three out of four sessions as a state representative before his 2011 election. Support in the legislature reached a crescendo in the 2011 and 2012 sessions, when 55 and 60 representatives, including Democratic House Speaker Greg Stumbo, co-sponsored Republican legislation for blanket screening of public benefit recipients.

Six Republicans signed on as co-sponsors of a bill to test recipients who have felony or misdemeanor drug convictions in this year’s session, and a fiscal note on similar legislation last year estimated background checks and additional staffing alone would cost between $2.6 million and $3.8 million.

The Cabinet for Health and Family Services, in the 2014 fiscal note, said the state could not impose additional eligibility requirements on food stamp and Medicaid recipients, so only Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and state supplementation programs could qualify.

The Department for Community Based Services, based on 2011 research, indicated in the fiscal note that if 5 percent of all applicants to the programs were tested, initial tests would cost $160,000 in all with the state reimbursing expenses for all negative results.

Kevin Wheatley

Kevin Wheatley is a reporter for Pure Politics. He joined cn|2 in September 2014 after five years at The State Journal in Frankfort, where he covered Kentucky government and politics. You can reach him at kevin.wheatley@charter.com or 502-792-1135 and follow him on Twitter at @KWheatley_cn2.

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