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Chad’s Morning Brief: Drug Testing Bills Gain in Texas, Placing Limits on the Governor & More

Here is your Morning Brief for the morning of April 15, 2013. Give me your feedback below and tune in to The Chad Hasty Show for these and many more topics from 8:30 to 11am.

Kumar Appaiah, Flickr

1. Drug Testing (link)

Bills regarding drug testing for people who are looking to the State of Texas for help are gaining momentum in Austin. If the bills go through, Texas will join other states that require those who take government assistance to prove they are drug free.

The warning for Texans seeking help from the government is clear: Stay off drugs.

Texas is in position to become the latest state joining a national movement seeking to ensure that public assistance applicants are drug-free, as a handful of bills designed to improve the programs make their way through the process in the closing month of the legislative session.

“Texas taxpayers will not subsidize or tolerate illegal drug abuse,” Gov. Rick Perry said months ago. “Every dollar that goes to someone who uses it inappropriately is a dollar that can’t go to a Texan who needs it for housing, child care or medicine.”

But opponents such as the American Civil Liberties Union say this is the wrong move because it targets lower-income residents.

“These bills are introduced by legislators based on the wrong belief that people who receive public assistance use drugs at a higher rate,” the ACLU said in a statement. “This kind of drug testing is unconstitutional, scientifically unsound, fiscally irresponsible and one more way the ‘war on drugs’ is an unfair war on America’s most vulnerable populations.”

At least seven states have passed legislation requiring drug testing or screening for those who seek public assistance — although Florida’s law has been held up in court because judges say the state hasn’t shown a “substantial special need” for the drug testing — and nearly 30 states have proposed similar legislation this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Last week, bills addressing welfare and unemployment programs in Texas, including one by state Sen. Jane Nelson to require drug screening for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which is state-run but federally funded, got a boost in the Legislature.

“We need to ensure that individuals receiving these public benefits are on a true path to self-sufficiency and drug-free in keeping with the mission of the program,” Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said of her bill, which the Senate approved. “Taxpayer dollars should not be used to subsidize a person’s drug habit — a destructive barrier to achieving independence.”

In Texas, this has become a key issue as elected officials hope to “hold people accountable for state and federal money received,” said Allan Saxe, an associate political science professor at the University of Texas at Arlington. “A lot of Texans believe, rightly or wrongly, that our public assistance has been greatly abused over the years and this [drug testing] would be one measure to hold the recipients accountable.

“It is both an emotional and economic issue,” he said. “If passed and [put] into practice, it may slow down many from applying for public assistance. Not that they are drug users necessarily, but just do not wish to go through the process of drug testing for whatever fears they may have.”

‘Reform and strengthen’

The temporary assistance program uses federal dollars to help low-income Texans with basic needs such as food, clothing and housing. It provides about $90 million to more than 100,000 Texans each year, state records show.

Those who now receive this aid sign a personal responsibility agreement, promising to remain drug-free while they work to become self-sufficient.

Nelson’s Senate Bill 11, approved by the Senate last week and now on its way to the House, is a scaled-down version of the measure originally filed and essentially requires applicants to the program to undergo a drug screening to determine their risk of using drugs. Some applicants, particularly any who have been convicted of felonies or who have failed drug tests, would likely be tested for drug use.

Anyone who tests positive is barred from the program for a year — but state workers may designate another adult, a “protective payee,” to receive funding on a child’s behalf, so that children don’t financially suffer if their parents lose their benefits. Anyone who fails a test may reapply after six months if he or she completes or is enrolled in a substance abuse treatment program. But anyone who fails the drug test three times is permanently disqualified from receiving the benefits.

I am all for drug testing welfare recipients. Though I would like to see random drug tests instead of only when someone applies for it.

As for the argument that it’s mean or that it targets low-income people. Give me a break. If you are taking state money, you have to play by the rules.

2. Going After Perry? (link)

Interesting story out of the Dallas Morning News about Rep. Lyle Larson and limiting the Governor.

Rep. Lyle Larson is an Aggie who likes classical music. He’s a Republican who has thrived in Democratic local politics. Now, he’s taking on the state’s GOP establishment.

Although he’s in the majority party in the Legislature, Larson has a penchant for challenging those in power, chiefly Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

Larson, 54, is just a second-term lawmaker from San Antonio, but he’s taking on big political reform ideas that are widely seen as shots across Perry’s bow.

He wants to limit the governor and other statewide officials to two, four-year terms in office. Perry is now in his third full term. He also wants elected officials to reimburse taxpayer-paid travel security costs if a visit outside of Texas isn’t state business. An example: A governor’s presidential campaign trip.

Some politicos see an ambitious effort to win attention for a move up the ladder, perhaps to the state Senate. Larson denied such aspirations, saying it’s really just a matter of “solid policy.”

“It’s incumbent upon the party that’s in power, when things are not being done the right way, we should fix it ourselves,” he said.

Larson is teaming with Sen. Kevin Eltife, R-Tyler, on the proposed constitutional amendment for term limits for statewide office holders. The Senate approved the measure. It’s now in a House committee.

Perry believes voters know best when it’s time to turn someone out of office, said his spokeswoman, Lucy Nashed.

As for state-paid security, she said Perry will consider signing any bill that passes the Legislature. But she emphasized that the Department of Public Safety’s long-held policy is to protect the governor and his family.

“He’s governor 24/7, no matter where he goes,” Nashed said.

The legislation would require reporting the out-of-state security costs to the Texas Ethics Commission and prevent taxpayers from footing the security bill when Perry or a future governor runs for president, Larson said.

“If they’re in New Hampshire or Iowa or somewhere else, we should not pick up the burden of paying for that,” he said.

It may be interesting to note that Larson and Speaker Joe Straus are old friends. Personally, I have no problem with providing the Governor of Texas security. I am also against term limits. When the voters have had enough, they will throw someone out of office.

3. Immigration (link)

Senator Marco Rubio took to TV on Sunday to discuss immigration reform. According to the AP, Rubio was trying to sell the tough terms of a possible deal.

A bipartisan deal on immigration legislation would need tough enforcement and even stricter penalties for those who came to the United States illegally, a leading Republican at the center of negotiations said Sunday.

Sen. Marco Rubio, who’s among the eight senators writing a plan that’s expected to come out Tuesday, tried to promote and defend the framework for the emerging overhaul that would provide a path toward citizenship for those who came to the country illegally or overstayed their visit.

While the deal does include a long and difficult process for the 11 million individuals in question, Rubio insisted the proposal does not include an “amnesty” provision that fellow conservatives have called a deal-breaker.

“We’re not awarding anybody anything. All we’re doing is giving people the opportunity to eventually earn access to our new, improved and modernized legal immigration system,” said Rubio, a Florida Republican and Cuban-American.

But among some of his fellow Republicans, there are serious doubts.

“I’m not convinced,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala. “I know Sen. Rubio’s heart is exactly right. And I really respect the work of the `Gang of Eight.’ But they have produced legislation … that will give amnesty now, legalize everyone that’s here effectively today and then there’s a promise of enforcement in the future.”

Sen. Mike Lee, a Utah Republican, added: “The pathway to citizenship, right now, before those other elements are in place, is the deal-breaker for me.”

He said he could consider supporting the proposals only if the first priority were border security.

Rubio said he would abandon the overhaul effort if enforcement, border security and other elements are softened to his dissatisfaction.

With an eye on a possible White House run in 2016, Rubio has been careful not to appear weak on border security or create political problems among the conservatives who have great sway in picking the GOP’s nominee.

Rubio also told those immigrants that it would perhaps be easier if they returned to their home countries and started the process from scratch rather than use the process Rubio is proposing.

“So I would argue that the existing law is actually more lenient, that going back and waiting 10 years is going to be cheaper and faster that going through this process that we are outlining,” he said.

What are your thoughts on immigration reform? I’d like to see what this plan looks like and with Rubio in the mix, I’m still optimistic. Though no matter what is announced on Tuesday, I believe you will see a lot of resistance from the House.

Other Top Stories:

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Barry Smitherman Apologizes for Tweet

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Rand Paul Forces Suffer Setback vs. GOP Establishment

RNC Approves Anti-Gay Marriage Resolution

Details of Kermit Gosnell’s Trial

U.S. Ready to Reach Out to North Korea

Kerry in China Seeking Help on North Korea

These and many more topics coming up on today’s edition of The Chad Hasty Show. Tune in mornings 8:30-11am on News/Talk 790 KFYO, streaming online at kfyo.com, and now on your iPhone and Android device with the radioPup App. All guest interviews can be heard online in our podcast section after the show at kfyo.com.

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