Prior to Tom Wolf’s inauguration, the crazy caucus has introduced a lot of bills that punches down on the poor and working class, but there are two bills that take aim at welfare recipients. The two bills – or co-sponsorship memos – were circulated by Jerry Knowles (HCO 280) and Tim Krieger (HCO 765) and they are designed to drug testing welfare recipients.
Knowles’ co-sponsorship memo would randomly drug test welfare recipients because his “constituents are frustrated with what they see as abuse of some state welfare programs, such as access cards” and continues with “this is money which is, in many cases, being wasted on those who choose not to work and spend state money on illegal and illicit drugs.” At the end of his memo, Knowles thinks that anyone who receives assistance from the state of Pennsylvania are people who turn to the state for a “paycheck,” and they should meet the same standards of being privately employed.
Even though Krieger’s co-sponsorship memo doesn’t use the dog-whistle rhetoric that runs rampant through Knowles’ memo, Kriger would like to take it one step further and drug test all welfare recipients. In his memo, Knowles stated that “all applicants and recipients to be screened for illegal drugs in order to be eligible for public assistance.”
There is really no need for these bills to be sent to Governor Wolf’s desk in the upcoming session because drug testing welfare recipients have been a total waste of time and money in states that have signed similar legislation into law. Over the summer, Think Progress reminded everyone that in Tennessee only one person in 800 failed a drug test. Think Progress wrote:
In the month since it began, six people submitted to a drug test and just one tested positive out of the 812 people who applied. Four were turned down for benefits because they refused to participate in drug screening. That means a positive rate of 0.12 percent for those who took part in the screening. That compares to the 8 percent of state residents generally who use illegal drugs.
About a month later, Time Magazine reported that Florida, another state who enacted similar legislation that Krieger and Knowles are pursuing, only “2.6 percent of applicants tested positive,” and like Tennessee, Florida “has an illegal drug use rate of 8 percent.”
If Knowles, Krieger and the other Republicans who signed onto these co-sponsorship memos were “fiscal conservatives,” which is a pillar of modern conservatism, then they would obviously not be pursuing this legislation, but that is not about being fiscally conservative. These bills are a poor shaming mechanism that are littered with dog whistle talking points for their conservative base and as Knowles pointed out in his memo, this legislation is designed to attack “the other” people who “choose not to work,” “abuse the welfare system” and use the “state’s money on illegal and illicit drugs.”
Pennsylvania is experiencing the crazy caucus takeover four to six years after the rest of the county, and last winter, they elected Mike Turzai to House Speaker and staged a coup in Senate by ousting Dominic Pileggi for the more conservative Jake Corman. Sure, it’s a possibility that these bills won’t reach Governor Tom Wolf’s desk, but it’s a possibility that they may just send him bad bill after bad bill to make him look like an ineffective governor.