Tennessee is plunging ahead with a plan to drug-test some welfare applicants even though a Florida judge stopped a similar program over constitutional issues and Arizona authorities caught only one welfare-receiving drug abuser in three years, according to The Tennessean. Reports from the Tennessee agency charged with implementing the drug-testing law show the state may try to catch drug-using applicants with a diagnostic quiz that includes questions such as “Have you abused more than one drug at a time?” and “Do you ever feel bad about your drug abuse?” If they failed the questionnaire, they would face urine screenings.
Tennessee passed its law last year and gave the Department of Human Services until July 1, 2014, to implement it. It’s taking cues from Arizona’s program, which went into effect in 2009.
“I don’t rule out the possibility that we’ve captured two idiots,” said Arizona state Rep. John Kavanagh, a former police detective who sponsored the legislation there. “If I was going to do it again, I would attempt to do a cross-check of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families rolls and records of drug arrests, but based on our budget, I don’t want to create that expense.
“I wish the Tennessee legislature all the luck. If they are able to crack through the judicial barriers, we will benefit from their experience.”
Tennessee’s sponsor for the drug law, Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, said he’s not discouraged by what’s happening in other states, and he would consider the law successful if it drove down the number of applicants simply because they knew they would be tested.
Groups who support drug-testing laws nationwide argue that the Fourth Amendment prohibition on searches without reasonable cause shouldn’t apply in the case of welfare applicants. Rachel Sheffield, a policy analyst for The Heritage Foundation, a right-leaning think tank in Washington, said it’s fair to require certain behavior from people who receive taxpayer assistance.
…About 51,000 Tennessee families receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a cash payment that averages about $164 a month, according to the most recent Department of Human Services report. Adults are required to keep their children in school and participate in a work-training program. They can’t receive benefits for more than 60 months in their lifetimes, although the clock on benefits can stop and start depending on their circumstances.
State officials are still looking for a drug to use in Tennessee executions, though no death row inmates are scheduled to die anytime soon, the Tennessean reports. Department of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield said the state’s lethal injection protocol is a top priority and he is pursuing alternative drugs. He declined to detail what options he was considering, but other states have turned to an alternative drug used in animal euthanasia.
“I’ve been a little cautious talking about this because some of it turns into litigation,” Schofield said in a recent interview. “I don’t have a time frame, but it’s a matter of urgency for us. We have been pushing and working. I want to assure that we haven’t been sitting on our hands.”
Eighty-four people sit on Tennessee’s death row. Sixty-seven have been there for more than 10 years. Six prisoners have been executed since 1960.
For death penalty opponents, the sudden shortage in 2011 of the anesthetic sodium thiopental has been a godsend.
Five states in recent years decided it was easier and cheaper to do away with their death penalties than to keep them.
“We’re very relieved,” said the Rev. Stacy Rector, with Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.
“Unfortunately for us, until we get the (death penalty) statute repealed, it’s always going to be a concern.”
News release from governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced an executive order to change the management and oversight of state drug court programs as part of his administration’s ongoing effort to increase government efficiency and effectiveness.
Executive Order No. 12 transfers the drug court programs from the Department of Finance and Administration (F&A) to the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS) effective July 1, 2012.
TDMHSAS oversees the licensing and funding for indigent Tennesseans needing substance abuse prevention, treatment, and recovery support services. The transfer of the drug courts to TDMHSAS will lessen duplication of effort and align with the department’s role as the substance abuse authority in the state.
“Management and oversight of Tennessee’s drug court programs are consistent with the focus of the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, and we believe it makes more sense for the department to manage these programs,” Haslam said.
Drug courts were established as an alternative to jails and prisons and are designed to foster recovery. For many arrested on drug-related offenses, prison is not the answer, and research has shown treatment costs are lower than costs associated with incarceration.
Drug courts refer clients to substance abuse community agencies that provide intervention and treatment services, which are funded, contracted and licensed by TDMHSAS. The department and the Office of Criminal Justice Services in F&A have had discussions about transitioning the programs and are prepared for a smooth transition.
“We are facing a major prescription drug problem in our state,” TDMHSAS Commissioner Doug Varney said. “We need to focus all of our resources in the most efficient, effective and collaborative way to maximize our impact on this issue and drug abuse overall.”
Drug court activities are also closely aligned with other programs currently overseen by TDMHSAS. For additional information about Tennessee’s drug court programs or other mental health and substance abuse programs please contact TDMHSAS’ Office of Communications at (615) 253-4812 or visit www.tn.gov/mental.
A remote Tennessee mountain where drug dealers have grown and hidden mounds of marijuana will soon become protected parkland, reports The Tennessean. Nearly 1,000 acres on Short Mountain in Cannon County will be kept free of development to instead remain wild and natural for hunters and hikers — an unusual outcome for forfeited drug property.
But this was no ordinary land. The gentle slopes and craggy ridges amazed federal drug investigators who were in on the raid and led scientists to discover species of crayfish, salamanders and beetles not found anywhere else. And the water that runs off the mountain — the tallest point in Middle Tennessee at 2,074 feet — flows down in every direction.
The deal to conserve the drug land, signed recently after years of negotiations, is one of just four such transfers in the nation in 15 years, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. It’s also by far the largest. In Tennessee, such an arrangement has no precedent.
A huge win for conservationists, who worked for years to convince government and police agencies of its merit, the deal preserves some of the most beautiful land in the state. Those who put it together say that made more sense than selling it off to recoup all of the money poured into the drug investigation.
By Sheila Burke, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — In spite of efforts to crack down on the state’s prescription drug abuse epidemic, a new report shows nearly 18 million prescriptions for controlled substances such as OxyContin and hydrocodone were dispensed in Tennessee last year — a 23 percent increase from the previous year.
The surging figures in the report to the General Assembly are a setback for those fighting to get a grip on the prescription drug.
“We’re in jeopardy of losing an entire generation of our youth to addiction if we don’t get a grip on this,” said Tommy Farmer, an assistant special agent in charge of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. “I mean that sincerely.”
Tennessee has some of the highest rates of prescription drug abuse in the nation. An Associated Press analysis found that per capita, oxycodone sales increased five- or six-fold in most of the state from 2000 to 2010.
“When you look at my units, we do detoxification of nice middle-class people who have been prescribed opiates and have slowly increased their dose and then they can’t get off,” Martin said.
Legislation calling for drug testing of welfare applicants leaves unclear who will pay for the tests, reports the Tennessean, and it could face a court challenge from the ACLU or others. The legislation’s latest fiscal note said TANF beneficiaries would cover the costs of the drug tests, estimated at one time to be around $30 apiece. But its Senate sponsor, Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, said after the bill passed that the Department of Human Services would try to help people pay for screenings and possibly the drug tests. A DHS official, Valisa Thompson, said development of the program will not start until July, so nothing specific about it has been determined — including who will bear what costs.
“The department will develop the plan with a goal of minimizing financial impact for all parties,” Thompson said in a statement.
But even as officials develop an implementation plan for the program — estimated to cost more than $200,000 on average in each of the next three years — they may have to confront constitutional questions.
…(Attorney General Bob) Cooper has yet to weigh in formally on the current bill, but others say the new law might not withstand a constitutional challenge.
“I don’t think it comes close. It’s undefined and unspecified,” said Ed Rubin, a professor of law and political science at Vanderbilt University. “It just allows for general surveillance. It doesn’t provide any probable cause, which is required by the Fourth Amendment.”
Rubin said that while the Fourth Amendment does allow people seeking certain jobs, such as airplane pilots and machinery operators, to undergo mandatory drug tests, cases like these occur when public safety is at stake.
“That rationale is completely lacking here,” he said. “There is no plausible public safety argument from the general Fourth Amendment.”
The legislation also has drawn criticism from the Tennessee chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which sent a letter to the governor calling the bill into question and urging Haslam to veto it.
The organization has not yet decided to sue the state, said Hedy Weinberg, executive director for the ACLU’s Tennessee chapter. State chapters of the ACLU sued over similar legislation in Florida and Michigan. The state already expects to spend more than $100,000 in legal costs, according to the bill’s fiscal note.
Weinberg said the legislation lacks clear guidelines and needs clarification, including its implementation policy and treatment referral process, but still might not pass the legal test.
“The bottom line is that it targets a certain socioeconomic group of people without suspicion or probable cause,” she said.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The House on Tuesday passed a bill to implement a suspicion-based drug testing program for welfare recipients in Tennessee.
The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Julia Hurley, of Lenoir City, passed on a 73-17 vote. The Senate previously passed its version 24-9, meaning the bill now heads for the governor’s consideration.
Rep. Johnnie Turner, of Memphis, was among the Democrats raising concerns about the bill.
“It is degrading, it is demeaning, it is dehumanizing,” she said. “It impacts on a group of people who are at their lowest ebb.”
The legislation would require new welfare applicants to undergo a special screening process. If suspicion is raised after the screening, the applicant would be drug tested.
The final version retreated from the original proposal that would have required blanket testing to qualify for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program. The state’s attorney general opined that that approach would have been unconstitutional.
The bill would require people who test positive for illegal drugs to enter into a drug treatment program, though they would continue to receive benefits during that time.
A subsequent drug test within six months would determine whether recipients are disqualified. Children would be exempt from testing and the measure would ensure children under age 16 would continue to receive benefits if their parents are disqualified.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A measure to require drug testing as a condition for receiving welfare has passed the Senate.
The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Stacey Campfield of Knoxville passed 24-9 Wednesday.
The legislation requires new welfare applicants to undergo a special screening process. If suspicion is raised after the screening, then the applicant would be drug tested.
The proposal differs from an original version that would have required blanket testing. The state’s attorney general opined that approach would be unconstitutional because it would violate applicants’ rights not to be drug tested unless there is suspicion they are using drugs.
The companion bill is awaiting a vote in the House Finance Committee.
Legislation requiring drug testing of welfare recipients has been revised to apply only to applicants for benefits who are deemed suspect users after filling out a “pre-screening” questionnaire.
Full implementation of the proposed new law would also be delayed until July 1, 2014, giving the Department of Human Services (DHS) time to develop plans for the pre-screening and develop rules fleshing out details of the process.
The amended version of SB2580 was approved 8-3 Thursday by the Senate Finance Committee, which clears it for a Senate floor vote next week as the Legislature pushes toward adjournment of its 2012 session.
Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, sponsor of the bill, said he is confident that the revisions assure passage by easing concerns about the proposal being unconstitutional.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to drug test people as a condition to receive welfare is advancing in the House despite a state attorney general opinion saying the legislation is constitutionally suspect.
The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Julia Hurley of Lenoir City was approved 11-6 in the House Health and Human Resources Committee on Wednesday. The companion bill is awaiting a vote in the Senate Finance Committee.
The legislation would test applicants with drug violations within the last five years. But Attorney General Bob Cooper has twice opined that the bill would violate constitutional rights of applicants unless there is suspicion they are taking illicit drugs.
Sponsors say savings of at least a million dollars would be used to help addicts recover from drug dependency.
However, opponents say the measure is politically motivated.