Lauren Johnson takes another spin in the legislative process and learns these dangerous moves can knock you down – but you have to keep getting up and try again!

It often feels like one step forward, two steps back, lather, rinse, repeat. This past year I’ve been working behind the scenes, and it’s been more than a little frustrating. The day after I went to the Capitol to testify about bills that were filed – that would’ve changed the struggle for those who come behind me on this journey – I woke up to an Internet headline that read, “Texas House passes bill on drug testing for welfare benefits”. That took the wind out of my sails. I was exhilarated the night before. I thought we’d been making progress, changing the perspective of the system and people! I was crestfallen.

I used to think, people have to pass drug tests every day to get employment, so why should someone on the dole (receiving assistance) get off so easy? It appears to be logical when it’s presented that way. However I began to change my thinking after a conversation with Conspire’s very own artistic director, Kat Craft. She explained a more complete idea to me, about where the money for testing comes from, and what testing studies have already shown us: it’s a huge waste of money.

I opened my mind to this idea. And it occurred to me that – if given enough time and warning – I don’t know many drug users who couldn’t pass a simple urine test. The type of testing proposed in the bill would not be as intensive as probation and parole urinalysis, where someone watches as the cup is filled (even then – in my using days – I managed to pass a few of  those). So I had to think about it with this new information. Like all hard working American’s, I don’t want someone using my tax dollars to buy drugs instead of feeding their family. I also know that no one should be left hungry. I would much rather my tax dollars be spent on food than wasting money on drug testing.

One bill that passed requires people on unemployment to take a drug test if a screening survey shows ‘good cause’. The person can appeal the results, or sign up for an acceptable program within seven days. I can’t wait to find out what these so-called ‘acceptable programs’ consist of, and what the wait to get in will be! And let’s not forget to ask where the money for the program is coming from -since these people are unemployed. Another bill that called for drug testing welfare recipients didn’t make it through the last rounds.

Then I woke up a few weeks later to see another worrisome headline in my news feed:

The amendment would bar from SNAP (food stamps), for life, anyone who was ever convicted of one of a specified list of violent crimes at any time — even if they committed the crime decades ago in their youth and have served their sentence, paid their debt to society, and been a good citizen ever since. In addition, the amendment would mean lower SNAP benefits for their children and other family members.

Louisiana is the only state that beats Texas in the race to incarcerate the most people per capita, in turn, has earned them first place world over. At one point I made a big deal about government discriminating against drug offenders. It seemed silly and unfair, but adding other types of criminals to this list does nothing to make me feel better. It only makes me ask, who is next? It also begs the question, what do they think violent offenders are going to do when they feel backed into a corner when denied the most basic of human needs?

On a positive note, I also read an article out of Denver (where I lived for a few years). I am pleased to see Colorado is making strides in the right direction.

Defense lawyers, prosecutors, cops and counselors all were represented on a Colorado Commission on Criminal & Juvenile Justice committee that hashed out the complex bill [to opt for treatment instead of jail].

And so goes the political shuffle ….do-si-do.


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