When government at any level considers a new policy, it is always a good idea to see how similar policies have worked out elsewhere. If a previous law failed to bring about the desired results, it makes sense to avoid repeating that failure. But if a law has yielded good results, it is reasonable to duplicate it.
So it is with recent discussions in Tennessee on requiring screenings for illegal drug use among people who get certain government benefits.
From a moral standpoint, it would be wise not to confer taxpayer-funded benefits on people who use illegal drugs. Taxpayers shouldn't have to indirectly subsidize someone's drug habit.
But what about from a practical standpoint? Would the drug screenings work?
Well, let's look at history.
In Florida, legislators enacted a law requiring applicants for cash benefits to undergo drug testing.
The results were encouraging. Dozens of drug abusers in Florida were blocked from getting welfare benefits when they failed the drug screening. And 1,600 more who completed applications for cash benefits were denied that money when they refused to be tested for illegal drug use. Undoubtedly a considerable percentage of those people declined to be tested because they had used illegal drugs and knew that would show up in the tests.
The results of Florida's law should encourage Tennessee lawmakers at least to give strong consideration to enacting similar drug-screening policies for welfare recipients here, and Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, is commendably pushing to do just that.
"This is your money that we're trying to protect here," he told the Nashville Chamber of Commerce. "Folks, we don't need to give any support to that [drug-abusing] lifestyle."
The drug testing would not, of course, be free, and it is reasonable in these tough economic times to consider what the cost of the tests would be to taxpayers.
But we should also consider how much Tennessee's taxpayers stand to save if potentially high numbers of drug abusers were weeded out from those who are eligible to get certain welfare benefits.
Those benefits are not an absolute right, and Tennessee would be well justified in denying them to people who use illegal drugs.