Push for drug tests could keep Walker in national spotlight

In the wake of his large re-election victory, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker continues to talk about requiring drug testing for those seeking unemployment compensation benefits or food stamps.

Pushing those ideas could keep Walker in the national media spotlight – something essential to his hopes to be either the next president or vice president of the United States. Controversial ideas attract more media attention than just dealing with budget issues.

Walker and his legislative allies are also busy talking about reducing taxes. The legislators’ attention seems to have focused, at least for the moment, on the property tax. Polls have shown it is the most unpopular of Wisconsin taxes.

The Republican political tidal wave means 31 states have GOP governors going into 2015. The wave of votes also has given Republicans control of both the House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

The idea of drug testing for workers who are laid off and for families seeking food stamps could be more complex than it sounds. Would the drug testing be mandatory for all seeking unemployment compensation benefits? Could individual employers opt out of the screening? Could they select which laid-off workers are drug tested? Legal suits are likely if only some workers in a layoff situation are tested while others are approved for benefits without testing. Age, race, and gender could be issues if only some are tested. There also is the issue of who will pay for the testing.

Questions also abound for the idea of drug-testing to get food stamps. Will a whole family be denied food stamps if a single parent tests positive for drugs? Should teenagers in food stamp families also be tested for drug use? Food stamps is a federal program. State-by-state qualifications face stiff legal challenges.

Matt Pommer is a veteran correspondent covering the Capitol in Madison. His column is published by BizTimes with permission from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.

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