New Florida Laws Attack Poor, Refuse to Protect Children

Two new laws on the books in Florida: One to require drug tests for welfare recipients, and one that makes it illegal for doctors to ask patients about their firearms. Interesting priorities.

Testing welfare recipients for drugs is a massive waste of taxpayer dollars, and a major privacy invasion. It’s been found unconstitutional in some circuits, since the 4th Amendment protects Americans against unreasonable searches. It’s a scary precedent to suggest that receiving public funds should leave you open to government invasion of your body. The argument in favor of drug testing seems to be, “Some people don’t deserve welfare.” Except, really, everyone deserves to eat and to have a roof over their heads — including drug users and addicts. If we want to help folks with addiction, the solution isn’t to make their lives harder and cut off their (already pithy) income source; it’s to fund social service programs for the poor, and make addiction treatment accessible and reasonable for low-income people. And as a practical point, if the goal is saving money, drug testing doesn’t do it — testing every welfare recipient is more expensive than maintaining aid without testing. But of course, this isn’t about saving money. It’s about targeting and punishing the poor.

Also on the Florida GOP target list? Children’s safety. Florida has passed a law preventing doctors from asking patients about their firearm ownership and use, which on its face sounds silly — why would your doctor ask you about your guns? — but is actually relatively important in pediatric care. As Dahlia Lithwick details:

The scuffle over “docs vs. Glocks” seems to have started when a pediatrician in Ocala asked the mother of a young child whether she kept guns in the home. She refused to answer because, as she put it, “whether I have a gun has nothing to do with the health of my child.” When the doctor told her to find another pediatrician, the women threatened to call a lawyer. Consider: According to a suit filed this week by the Brady Center, 65 children and teenagers are shot every day in America, and eight of them die; one-third of American homes with children under 18 have a firearms in them; and more than 40 percent of those households store their guns unlocked and a quarter of those homes store them loaded. What was it that mother said again? Oh, right, guns have nothing to do with the health of our children.

Pediatricians are trained—indeed, they are explicitly advised by the American Academy of Pediatrics—to inquire about the presence of open containers of bleach, swimming pools, balloons, and toilet locks in the homes of their patients. It’s part of their job to educate parents about potentially lethal dangers around the home. (Pediatricians have also been known to ask about menstruation, painful sex after childbirth, birth control, and the travails of potty training, all in the interest of patient well-being, by the way). So one might wonder why an inquiry about guns is the place to draw the line in the sand, the ultimate threat to personal privacy.

It’s not like pediatricians can take away your guns, but that’s what the NRA and the GOP seem to think — the NRA initially suggested that the punishment for violating the “no asking about guns” law should be prison time or a $5 million fine. Seems reasonable. I think we should institute the same punishment for wasting everyone’s time and money on stupid laws that actively harm the most vulnerable. The NRA alone could solve the U.S. debt crisis.


Feministe / By Jill F

Posted at June 9, 2011, 5:25am

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