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SPOTLIGHT
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Judge not ...

Published on -1/27/2013, 10:04 AM

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Another legislative session in Topeka; another attempt to drug-test Kansans who receive benefits from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. The oft-introduced measure hasn't passed in the past, but this just might be the year.

Ultra-conservatives dominate the state capital. And among the numerous tendencies regularly displayed by such individuals, one seemingly irresistible action is to impose their own moral standards whenever possible upon those with no means to prevent it. The sad aspect of the expected legislation is that it appears it will garner support from moderates this year as well.

Of course, such measures rarely are offered in moral terms. That would appear punitive and pious. Instead, the efforts are presented as necessary to help the individual.

Senate Vice President Jeff King, the Independence Republican who plans to introduce the bill, said: "Helping them to get drug treatment and basic job skills, so they can get and keep a job and provide for their families -- that to me is the best example of trying to help someone."

Sounds almost noble, doesn't it? Then why not attempt to drug-test everybody who chooses to live in the state? Why not help everyone?

Because the U.S. Constitution doesn't allow it. Citizens have not only a reasonable expectation of privacy in this country but an absolute right to resist unwarranted searches.

But, as many political leaders around the country will argue, if it's connected to benefits funded with taxpayer dollars -- then it's OK.

Republican House Speaker Ray Merrick of Stilwell said as much last week: "We need to tighten it down. If I'm giving you something, I ought to have something in return."

Kansas lawmakers point to the $42 million distributed in cash benefits to about 32,000 Kansans last fiscal year alone. That amount strikes them as a lot of money which, if they can identify users of illicit drugs who receive TANF, could be reduced.

We've pointed this out before, but it bears repeating. If the litmus test used is the receipt of public funds, why is it limited to those TANF clients? As a matter of principle, all who get tax monies redistributed their way should be subjected to the same.

That would affect most everybody in Kansas. Farm subsidies are not funded by the private sector. Neither are tax breaks for oil companies and dairy operations. Think of the businesses and organizations that are exempt from the state sales tax. That one category alone is excused from paying more than $4 billion annually.

Planning to claim an exemption on your tax return this year? Why shouldn't you be expected to submit a sample of your blood or urine right along with it? Don't forget your spouse and children if you claimed them as well.

Such measures would never fly. Not even with the super-majorities of ultra-conservatives in power.

So why will legislators attempt to subject exclusively Kansans who participate in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program? Because they apparently are inferior residents of this great state. Poor people are the only ones most people think of when they hear the term "welfare recipient." They, obviously, need help -- not only with putting food on the table but getting their personal lives in order.

No such moral judgments are made on corporate welfare recipients, even though that category claims the lion's share of public assistance.

Kansans deserve to be treated fairly, regardless of income level. We would think whether lawmakers rely on religious texts or constitutional documents for guidance, they would find similar messages in both.

Editorial by Patrick Lowry

plowry@dailynews.net

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