Sunday, December 15, 2013

Wasting My Tax Dollars to Insult People

I make fun of Florida with its bad cops, uber-racist systems, and stupid laws, but Minnesota's legislature snuck in one of Florida's dumb laws last session. Added as a Republican amendment to an omnibus spending bill (how did that happen, DFL?!), our state now requires random drug testing of people with felony drug convictions who get income-support benefits from the state.

This is one of those things that sounds reasonable, which explains why it passed, but as today's Star Tribune shows, that which is "reasonable" is not necessarily good policy.

How many people does this requirement affect? Why, .4 percent of people who get the benefits (vs. 1.2 percent of the state's general population). The numbers in some counties are so low that their social service agencies are having to set up systems for less than a handful of people.

The requirement costs more than it saves, clearly, and that cost is borne by the counties, since it was unfunded. "Random" was also not defined, so some counties interpret it as sampling all ex-offenders at random times while others interpret it to mean randomly selecting ex-offenders to sample.

The biggest decrease in people getting benefits will likely be from people who can't manage to fill out the paperwork required, not from people failing a drug test.

Which reminds me of the great book Scarcity -- one of the authors' main recommendations was to decrease the difficulty in accessing safety net services, because when people are facing economic scarcity they're even less likely to be able to handle mentally taxing requirements. Bureaucracy and multipage paperwork is the very definition of mentally taxing.

As others have argued, maybe we should test the legislators for drugs instead of regular people.

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