OUR VIEW: Privacy and drug tests

Wednesday , February 01, 2012 - 3:35 PM

Editorial Board

State Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, wants applicants who file for financial assistance from the Division of Workforce Services to be required to submit to a written test to determine if they have a substance abuse problem. It's a bad idea and shouldn't progress in the Legislature.

We regard the test as an intrusion into applicants' privacy, and also an unfair insinuation that a significant percentage of persons who need economic assistance are in that situation due to personal bad habits. We'd advise Wilson and other legislators to take a look at developments in Florida, where a judge has blocked efforts to drug-test welfare applicants in that state. A judge agreed that forcing a drug test on applicant, Luis W. Lebron, 35, a veteran, was unconstitutional.

Also, it's worth noting that in Florida only 32 persons -- out of 21,000-plus welfare applicants -- have tested positive for drugs since the now-outlawed program began.

Wilson's intent for his proposal is to find out which applicants for assistance have a drug problem. At that point state officials could help them with their problem. That in itself is an admirable goal -- we all want to help people. But we believe that goal can be accomplished without testing every single applicant who needs assistance. As the Florida numbers show, people need assistance because they are in hard economic times. It's estimated that close to a fifth of the population in the United States is either unemployed or so discouraged that they are no longer actively seeking work. Also, many of the employed in our nation are under-employed or earning very low wages.

We admire those Utahns who are doing all that they can to find a job and taking advantage of relief programs to help them while they try to improve their situations. They do not need the knock to their privacy -- or the insult that their unemployment is due to substance abuse -- while they try to get back on their feet.

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