steffanie rivers

Steffanie Rivers

*Georgia has joined at least two dozen other states that are pushing drug tests for welfare recipients. The mostly Republican state assembly claims it wants to insure welfare benefits are used the way they were intended and not in the commission of criminal activity. Last October a federal judge stopped Florida from drug-testing its residents who receive up to $300/month in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits after the law was in effect less than three months. And that sets the precedence that other states might be wasting time and tax dollars in a doomed endeavor.

Although it’s understandable that state lawmakers want to cut expenses from the budget, recipients of public aid should not be the only people forced into mandatory drug testing. Anybody who receives money or services supported by state or federal funds should also have to pass a drug test. That means state and local government employees; teachers and even the governor should be tested. He should lead by example. They get paid through tax revenues too, right? And since most people have to pass drug tests to get hired anyway there should be no objections. If it’s really about saving tax dollars and not about targeting poor recipients of those tax dollars there shouldn’t be a problem.

But that’s just it: It’s really not about saving tax dollars. State lawmakers in various states are teaming up with organizations such as the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to push legislation on the state level they know won’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of passing on the federal level. Some of that legislation includes tougher nationwide voter identification and the ‘Stand Your Ground’ law that some say gave accused murderer George Zimmerman the right to shoot and kill Trayvon Martin.

The website says ALEC organizers draft bills to “promote conservative initiatives,” then it lobbies to get the bills passed, mostly into state law. Most of the state laws ALEC promotes wouldn’t pass the scrutiny of a U.S. legislative and executive vote. But if enough states pass their own version of these controversial laws a federal version becomes irrelevant. Its network of membership includes more than 2,000 state legislators representing every state, as well as at least 99 former and current governors and members of Congress. Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, Mars, McDonalds, Pepsi and Wendy’s are a few of the 300 corporations linked to ALEC. Some watchdog groups have challenged ALEC’s non-profit status, accusing it of spending most of its efforts on lobbying which is against regulations for organizations with a non-profit label. The Center for Media and Democracy created a website that lists the more than 800 pieces of legislation created by ALEC (http://prwatch.org).The anti-collective bargaining laws in Wisconsin and Ohio, which made it illegal for public sector employees to have union representation, started as ALEC model bills. Many states have a history of adopting tougher regulations dealing with labor and civil rights. The federal government, on the other hand, has a history of being more labor and civil rights friendly. As we move closer to another election season remember it’s just as important to get involved with politics on the state level. If you don’t, it’s akin to guarding the front door while leaving the back door open.

Steffanie is a freelance journalist living in the Dallas, Texas metroplex. Send comments, questions and speaking requests to [email protected].