A letter to Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville:
Thanks for the chat about your proposal to screen all applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) for possible substance abuse problems.
I like how much thought you've put into your proposal. I like that you want to improve an existing process. I like that you feel your idea will be better for applicants.
I just don't like your idea.
You want to use a written test, one state drug treatment workers already use, to find potential substance abuse among all TANF applicants. You say the Department of Workforce Services, which administers TANF, has about 300 clients a year who have problems that keep them from working. Identifying them sooner would get them help sooner.
First, it's become popular to complain that "people shouldn't use government aid to buy drugs," which implies that many do.
They don't. You said you know, from personal experience, that most Utah applicants are drug-free, getting temporary help. National surveys bear you out.
Testing all applicants defies the "innocent until proven guilty" idea and could draw a legal challenge based on the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits government sticking its nose into private affairs without a just cause.
Michigan and Florida did require all TANF applicants to pee into a cup. Michigan's law was overturned. Florida's was stopped by injunction.
You said "I checked with the Attorney General's office and because we're going about this so differently I think we have good standing. I don't want to invade anyone's privacy."
However, Geoff Landward, DWS's legal advisor, couldn't guarantee your idea will survive legal challenge. "I don't know if that will hold up or not, but I think it has a better chance," is how he put it.
There has to be a better solution. Three hundred cases a year are too few to justify the risk of a costly legal challenge. Even if your idea stands, there's staff time, expanded bureaucracy and test costs.
But I also have a bigger problem with your proposal.
Government should not be able to screen everyone just because everyone "might" abuse drugs or alcohol. Where does it stop?
Maybe you should test me before I buy a gun. Maybe we should test you before you run for public office. You're smiling, Brad, but we both know there is no aspect of private life some Utah lawmaker, acting with the certitude of ignorance, won't legislate.
Consider Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan.
Osmond, brand new to the Legislature this year, is kicking around the idea of Utah declaring that a fetus is a legal person, possibly from conception. It's called "personhood."
The anti-abortion crowd loves personhood. It would prevent all abortions.
But philosophers have debated when human life begins for millennia. Religions say human life begins anywhere from "at birth" to pre-lives on other planes of existence.
Personhood's legal implications are mind-boggling. Is contraception murder? Are miscarriages manslaughter? Must doctors let a woman with an ectopic pregnancy die? Is a fetus a tax deduction?
Sen. Osmond, has a BS in business management from the University of Phoenix. He wants us to believe he has the answers, or that you lawmakers -- any of you guys philosophers, theologians or medical ethicists? -- will find them.
You're willing to try. That's the problem. You won't stop expanding government.
So while your intentions are good, Brad, I don't trust you with even the small amount of power your bill would give you.
Let's keep this simple. You are a Republican. Republicans want smaller government. Your bill would make government bigger.
Stop the bill.
It would be a start.