On one topic, Minnesota House Democrats and Republicans agree: It's high time we made our state lawmakers take drug tests.
"Bring on the cup!" said state Rep. Duane Quam, R-Byron, during Monday night's debate on the drug testing provision. "I have nothing to fear."
The drug testing debate surfaced near the end of the endless debate on the House Heath and Human Services omnibus budget bill and its 87 proposed amendments.
When Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, introduced an amendment that would require drug tests for Minnesota welfare recipients, Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, countered with an amendment to the amendment. If welfare recipients had to pee in a cup before they could get a check from the state, she said, state lawmakers should have to do the same.
"You should be ashamed. You should really be ashamed to be using poor kids" to score political points, Liebling told Drazkowski during floor debate.
Blanket drug tests for lawmakers, she said, makes about as much sense as blanket testing of participants in the Minnesota Family Investment Program, or MFIP.
"There is no evidence that people who apply for MFIP use drugs at any higher rate than anybody else," she said. "Legislators should be tested. After all, we're giving public money and the public has an interest in making sure we're drug free and alcohol free."
Drazkowski pointed out that eight other states already conduct some form of drug testing on welfare recipients. He said the tests would bring accountability to the system and help "break the cycle of addiction."
"The people for who we provide our numerous and generous welfare benefits [should] submit to random drug testing," he said. "Like the Minnesotans who earn the dollars that we extract from them, and turn around and use for various programs, including this MFIP program."
Florida, the first state to tie welfare benefits to drug tests, spent thousands of dollars on tests, ran into a snarl of court challenges to the law's constitutionality, and found that only 2 percent of the welfare population tested positive for drugs.
Liebling's amendment might have been ironic, but it won enthusiastic support from both sides of the aisle. Liebling's amendment to the amendment was adopted with the support of all but a dozen lawmakers, including House Speaker Paul Thissen. Drazkowski's amendment passed by a vote of 83-49.