Yesterday, the Joint Finance Committee approved of drug testing the unemployed in the proposed budget.
The final testing requirements are similar to AB192 minus the requirement to survey employers about their drug testing. Accordingly, the estimate by the Legislative Finance Bureau to a great extent applies to this similar testing requirement. I went through AB192 costs here. In short, initial costs for setting up the drug testing will be just over $1.6 million, and the annual costs for the drug testing will, it is estimated, be $1.06 million.
The drug testing in the budget bill was previously described here. For the Joint Finance Committee, the Fiscal Bureau added additional analysis for the drug testing that is now in the budget bill. This memo revises the annual cost estimates from AB192 — now only $973,200 — and notes numerous “issues” with this testing. For instance, other drug testing programs have only found extremely low numbers of positive test results, this testing could easily be more expensive than estimated, the testing requirement could — if the full scope of the requirement is allowed by federal authorities and applied by DWD — cover up to 85% of all claimants in Wisconsin, almost 5% of Wisconsin’s workers would most likely be immediately covered by this drug testing requirement, and estimated treatment costs of $2,700 per claimant are really nothing more than guesswork and that actual costs for treatment are unknown.
The ability of employers to volunteer test results of job applicants raises a host of additional problems as well, from whether employers will need to change their testing procedures to DWD-approved testing, potential violations of employee privacy, and creating a host of complications regarding departmental record-keeping requirements. Indeed, the Finance Bureau specifically notes that the Advisory Council previously asked the legislature to repeal a similar testing provision that was passed by the legislature in 2011. And, the legislature did so. None of the issues with that legislation have been addressed in this current drug testing requirement.
So, there are many reasons to think this drug testing requirement is not ready for prime time. But, all of these problems are not what is most remarkable about this legislation. What is most strange here is who is advocating for this testing and what supporters and critics are saying.
As the title for this post indicates, this testing requirement is essentially making the Department of Workforce Development into a sponsor and supporter of drug treatment programs for hundreds of Wisconsin workers. Prior to my arrival in Wisconsin, for some time I lived in Massachusetts, the home state of that lion of the senate, that bastion of liberalism, Ted Kennedy. Senator Kennedy certainly changed his positions on issues over time, but the Kennedy of the 1970s was the symbol of big government programs intended to cure societal ills. In 2015 — forty years later — you would think that the Republicans of today would be as far apart from 1970s big government liberalism as possible, especially when many push President Reagan’s rebuke of that liberalism as a little bit of political heaven on earth.
Yet, during the debate over this drug testing the Democratic members of the Joint Finance Committee were the ones pointing out the wasteful, big government spending at issue with this drug testing. The estimates were low-balled, these Democrats exclaimed, the testing and treatment will accomplish nothing, and government bureaucracy will only make finding work that much harder. WisPolitics budget blog smartly featured the Republicans’ response to these criticisms. Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, explained: “There’s a tremendous opportunity through good public policy to make a community better.” In 1975, Ted Kennedy could not have said it better, and that is what makes this drug testing one of the strangest pieces of legislation I have ever seen.