Give state Rep. Tim Schaffer points for persistence, the Republican from Lancaster wants drug testing for cash assistance in Ohio and he’ll do just about anything to get it. He’ll water it down. He’ll pitch it as a pilot program. He’ll illustrate his proposal with flow charts: Anything to stick this feather in his conservative tricorne.
Of course what he will not do is acknowledge what a colossal waste of time and resources his proposal is, in any form, nor the utter failure of such programs in the other various states of these united American.
Schaffer’s office sent out a feeler to his House colleagues on Jan. 29 to see if anybody would be interested in tilting at this windmill with him. Every good Quixote needs his Sancho Panza:
In the coming weeks, I plan on re-introducing legislation that will create a drug testing pilot program in three counties under the Ohio Works First (OWF) cash assistance program.
This legislation is designed to pass constitutional review as it incorporates measures learned from other states whose similar legislation was successfully challenged in court.
So while Rep. Schaffer has taken the time to study the law and figure out a way to worm around it with his legislation, he has apparently declined to notice that in 12 other states that have tried variations on this tune, none have saved money—quite the opposite, all found very few people testing positive for drugs, and most found the whole business a colossal waste of time and resources indeed. But Mr. Schaffer insists.
The bill would require anyone seeking OWF benefits in three participating counties to complete a written assessment as part of the application process to determine if there is probable cause to suspect illegal drug use.
This is Schaffer’s answer to various judges and appeals courts ruling that such laws represent unconstitutional search and seizure.
Under Schaffer’s plan, those tested would have to first admit that they have used drugs within the past six months in a National Institute of Health Assessment. And then those “positives” from the assessment, as he puts it, would be drug tested.
Thus rides The Ingenious Gentleman Tim Schaffer of Lan Caster, off to test admitted drug users for the use of drugs.
As state Senator, Schaffer tried this proposal unsuccessfully in 2013.
“It is time that we recognize that many families are trying to survive in drug-induced poverty, and we have an obligation to make sure taxpayer money is not being used to support drug dealers. We can no longer turn a blind eye to this problem.”
What Schaffer will turn a blind eye to is the evidence.
Ladies and gents, the tale of the tape:
In Tennessee, after six months, less than one half of 1 percent of residents who applied for assistance flunked their drug test. That’s 37 people out of 16,000 applicants. That’s 0.23 percent. Even the testing of those who admitted previous drug use on a questionnaire, as Schaffer proposes for Ohio, only popped the test at a rate of 13 percent in the Volunteer State.
Utah saw similar results to Tennessee, spending $30,000 to catch 12 drug users for a tested-positive rate of 0.2 percent. In Florida, before the state’s law was ruled unconstitutional, the tested-positive rate stood at a whopping 2 percent. In it’s first year, the program saw a net loss of over $45,000.
Of course, Schaffer argues that the reason for the low percentages is that drug-addled applicants don’t turn back up for the test after they know they have to take one. His evasion doesn’t account for the fact that the cash assistance rolls in these states have seen no parallel drop in enrollment due to the self-exclusion of drug addicts.
Nevertheless, Schaffer will have at that dastardly windmill from all sides, and despite the facts clearly showing the futility of his effort, he is not dissuaded. (In one sense I can relate: The hero of Cervantes is much too noble an analogy for the dubious undertakings of Mr. Schaffer, yet I must press it until the end.)
Schaffer’s legislation remains unintroduced, and his office has not responded to a request for an update of its status. But it’s not hard to imagine him finding a couple Sanchos to ride along in Ohio’s General Assembly. It is a silly place.
David DeWitt is a writer and man of sport and leisure based out of Athens, Ohio. He has also written for Government Executive online, the National Journal’s Hotline, and The New York Observer’s Politicker.com. He can be found on Twitter @TheRevDeWitt.