Two local lawmakers are seeking to make some recipients of certain forms of government assistance submit to drug testing in order to get a check from the state. Senate President Pro Tem Tim Jennings, a top Democrat legislative leader, and Rep. Candy Spence Ezzell, R-Roswell, are sponsors of legislation that would deny certain public assistance if an individual tests positive for illegal drugs.
Jenningsâ€™ bill, which was introduced on the Senate floor on Tuesday, takes aim at people seeking jobless benefits and would require all recipients to submit to testing.
â€œWe might have to reduce benefits on unemployment because of the huge number of people who are unemployed … (and) theyâ€™re robbing from the people who canâ€™t (work),â€ he said. â€œWeâ€™re having a hard time paying unemployment benefits for everybody and why are we paying if for people who choose to do drugs?â€
His proposal would require applicants to pay for the drug testing. If an individual failed or refused a drug test, they would be disqualified from receiving the benefits for 26 weeks. After that time they could apply again. Ezzell says she is preparing to introduce legislation that would give caseworkers authority to drug test recipients of any state assistance. â€œIf there is a caseworker that suspects that the person their working with might be using drugs, … they do have to pee in the cup,â€ Ezzell said.
â€œIf you want to continue using drugs and want to receive all the free handouts, go to a different state to do it.â€ The lawmaker carried the bill to no avail two years ago, but says sheâ€™s hopeful it could gain traction this year, and that so far, 15 Democrats have signed on to co-sponsor the legislation. Despite any gains either piece of legislation may make inside the Roundhouse, both bills will face opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union.
â€œIf a requirement like this passed into law we would strongly consider a legal challenge,â€ said Peter Simonson, executive director of the ACLU in New Mexico, saying the measure would violate peopleâ€™s Fourth Amendment rights dealing with search and seizures. Simonson added that Ezzellâ€™s bill specifically targets one group of people.
â€œI think one of the ironies about a law like this is how openly it targets poor people,â€ he said. â€œIs there any reason why these requirements would not be put upon people who receive tax credits, housing subsidies, state lottery scholarships or even Medicaid, for that matter?â€