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Arthur Delaney
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Dems Fire Back At GOP Proposals To Drug Test Jobless: 'You Pee In The Cup'

Posted: 01/07/12 11:12 AM ET Updated: 01/07/12 08:50 PM ET

State Drug Testing Jobless

The past year has seen an unprecedented wave of Republican bills to drug test the poor and jobless. It also saw a smaller wave of Democratic bills that said in response, "No, you pee in the cup."

One of the most recent retorts comes from Georgia, where last month Democratic state Rep. Scott Holcomb introduced a bill requiring members of the local legislature to prove they're not Legislating Under the Influence. Holcomb told HuffPost he came up with the idea because he was struck by a bill from his Republican colleagues to drug test welfare applicants.

"I was really struck by how awful it was," he said. "I wanted to bring some attention to it."

Democrats in Florida, Ohio and Tennessee have done the same thing. Tennessee state representative G.A. Hardaway said his bill to test lawmakers was inspired by constituents annoyed with a Republican welfare-drug-testing bill. "They said to me, 'how do we know y'all aren't on drugs?'" Hardaway told local TV station WMC-TV. "I thought, well, you don't."

The trend started in Florida, the only place where the local government actually followed through with welfare drug testing -- at least until a federal judge ruled it a flagrant violation of the Constitution's ban on unreasonable search and seizure four months after the policy took effect. During that brief period, a mere 2.5 percent of welfare applicants tested positive for drugs.

A spokesman for Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) told HuffPost in September that the governor would be willing to submit to testing himself. But when Comedy Central's "Daily Show" presented him with a cup the following December, he declined to pee in it. Scott's attorney general Pam Bondi played along and provided the Daily Show with a cup labeled "Pam Bondi" filled with a yellowish liquid. A Bondi spokeswoman confirmed to HuffPost that the liquid was, in fact, apple juice from the cafeteria.

The drug testing action in the states eventually percolated to the U.S. Congress. In December Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) introduced a bill to require states to screen unemployment insurance claimants for drugs. A version of Kingston's legislation was included in a broader bill that passed the U.S. House of Representatives but failed in the Senate.

Assistant Minority Leader Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) called the Republican drug test scheme unfair and insulting. "I don't see anyone in the Republican majority demanding drug testing for folks who receive oil and gas subsidies," he said.

A spokesman for Kingston said the congressman would take a look at Holcomb's bill, but said "it's a separate point from what Congressman Kingston is trying to address with his proposal."

Holcomb doesn't view his bill as a separate point: "If they're gonna play this game, this is how we're gonna play it."

Asked how many of his colleagues he suspected might flunk a drug screen, Holcomb said he didn't know.

"I would hope none," he said. "Why would there be an assumption that someone on welfare would fail?"

Arthur Delaney is the author of "A People's History of the Great Recession," HuffPost's first e-book.

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