Texas Matters
12:10 pm
Fri November 16, 2012

Drug Testing Welfare Recipients, Drug Policy Makeovers, And Texas Tries To Secede. Again.

Texas Republicans propose a bill to drug test welfare recipients - should we drug test politicians as well? Laws legalizing the possession and use of marijuana passed in Colorado and Washington, is this the beginning of a new era in American drug policy? Mexico has a new president and many are hoping this will mark the beginning of a real solution to the war against the drug cartels. Finally, we just can't let this week go without continuing the discussion on Texas secession.

Perry and Dewhurst announce support for TANF drug testing bill

The Texas version of financial assistance (welfare) is called TANF, an acronym for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and the state is one of lowest spending in the nation; the Texas per capita expense is just $32 compared to New York, which spends $256 - the national average is $99.

So Texas is already not very generous when it comes to family assistance, but now things are getting tougher for TANF families. This week, Governor Rick Perry and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst announced their plan for a new drug testing program for TANF and unemployment benefits.

The top two state leaders had a press conference on Nov. 13th to outline their proposal.

"In the case of TANF benefits, this will help prevent tax dollars from going into the pockets of drug abusers or drug dealers," said the governor. "And instead insures that this money goes to the people who truly need it. Being on drugs makes it harder to begin the journey to independence, which only assures individuals remain stuck in that terrible cycle of drug abuse, desperation and poverty."

With the Republican party in solid control of both Texas legislative bodies there’s little doubt that the drug testing bill will pass and become law.

It seems like a good idea, but...

But there are critics of the new law, like Jim Harrington, director of the Texas Civil Rights Project.

"First set of reasons [to object] would be questions of privacy and that we don't invade people's bodies, or require drug tests without some sort of cause - this is a principle we have under search and seizure, of taking of blood or intruding on a persons integrity. The second reason is a fiscal reason, and it is just totally counterproductive - it doesn't work. We've seen that in the Florida experiment that was in existence for about 4 months. And ultimately you end up spending - wasting - tax payer money on these drug tests that have no material benefit overall in terms of the program. And in fact what happens is that you take the money out of these programs to do the drug testing which means across the board you are denying or lessening the amount of unemployment benefits or the amount of TANF benefits that people would otherwise receive," said Harrington.

This sort of law has already failed a constitutional test and will most likely follow a path to the courts should the law pass - as it is expected to do.

"All the data show that there is less use of any kind of drugs among people receiving benefits than in the workplace of the guy who called in [to an AM talk radio show]. We have this demonizing of poor people going on in the country right now. It would be more interesting, probably, to start drug testing our legislators," added Harrington.

Marijuana laws pass in two states, is this the new NORML?

The new Texas TANF anti-drug crackdown was announce just days after two states, Colorado and Washington, passed laws at the ballot box that allowed recreational use of marijuana. Something like that passing in Texas is a pipe dream according to Josh Schimberg, the executive director of Texas NORML (The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws).

"Unfortunately, Texas citizens aren't allowed the liberty to have statewide voter ballot initiatives to pass laws in this way (like Colorado and Washington)," said Schimberg. "Back in 2004, there was a poll done by Scripps Howard - statewide poll in Texas - that found three-quarters of the respondents in Texas agreed that patients should be allowed to have recommendations for, and get, medical marijuana if their doctor thought it would be beneficial... There is a huge disconnect between public opinion and the legislators; especially in Texas."

A Mexican Revolution

Select states in the United States aren’t alone in rethinking drug laws and the drug war, even Mexico is evolving its policies. On Dec. 1, people in Mexico are expecting big changes in their bloody war against the drug cartels when Mexico swears in a new president, Enrique Peña Nieto.

Peña Nieto is bringing with him a bit of old Mexico, the PRI, which is the former dominant ruling party. Many in Mexico hope that the PRI will turn back the clock when it comes to the battles against the drug cartels, and finally find a lasting resolution.

Reporter Lorne Matalon of Marfa Public Radio has just returned from northern Chihuahua where citizens say they look forward to ending Mexico’s war on drugs.

The Republic of Texas, 1836

Texas was an independent nation for almost 10 years, and there’s talk of trying to make that happen again. Over 100,000 people signed an online White House petition to allow Texas to peacefully secede from the Union. For many of the signers this was a kind of joke, a way to show their displeasure with the recent re-election of President Barack Obama, the gridlock in D.C. and the budget deficit.

"The polling that we have done is that by an overwhelming majority Texans would elect to pursue this course [to break away from the union]," said Roberts.

However, those who signed it as a joke are only in one camp, there are those who dream of the day when Texas again takes its place as an independent nation. David Thomas Roberts is a member of the Texas Nationalist Movement, a supporter of Texas independence and has also written the book, “Patriot of Treason.”

"Somebody else did that on their own [the White House petition], we love the attention that it has got because it has got a lot of attention, [but] our petition is to the Texas State Legislature. It is our opinion, and the constitutional experts that we go to, that there's no need for us to go to the president or the White House and ask them for permission for this," said Roberts.

So does Texas have the legal authority to remove itself from the Union?

According to recognized history, government and constitutional experts: No.

Teresa Van Hoy is a history professor at St. Mary’s University: 

"The U.S. Supreme Court contemplated this matter - as it came up regarding Texas - in 1868 and it was again affirmed that Texas did not have a legal right to secede," said Van Hoy. "In fact, in that particular case - the Texas v. White case - the legislature was not even obligated to pay back public bonds that had been issued because the secession government wasn't even legal according to U.S. law. So really there is no legal grounds, that we can find as nineteenth century historians, for this case for secession."

"One thing that surprises folks is to hear that not even Sam Houston wanted secession, that he stood out in a park for hours and begged the people of Texas not to secede from the union - originally. And in fact, what a lot of people don't know, he was, at the time, governor of Texas, and he got booted out of the governorship for his anti-secession stance," said Van Hoy.

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