Reporting Vickie Thomas
LANSING (WWJ) - A local state senator says if Michigan wants to test welfare recipients for drug and alcohol abuse, it should do the same for elected officials.
Democratic Sen. Bert Johnson said it’s time the state holds its legislators to the same standards as its citizens.
“There are Republicans who believe that people who are on state assistance should be drug tested, randomly and otherwise. If that’s the case, I think all of us, myself included, who receive public money as elected officials, appointees and otherwise, should have to submit to random drug testing,” Johnson told WWJ’s Vickie Thomas.
Johnson said that includes state appointees like Treasurer Andy Dillon, who reportedly spent five days in January at an addiction treatment center at Brighton Hospital after several years of heavy drinking
“If he has a substance abuse issue, it should be dealt with,” he said.
Johnson said Dillon was battling his inner demons while pouring through the red ink in Detroit’s finances to determine if an emergency manager was needed for the city.
“The larger question is did the governor know, when did he know, and what was he prepared to do about it, while at the same time the treasurer was undertaking really big decisions about the city of Detroit and its future,” he said.
Johnson said he doesn’t want to send the message that he’s picking on Dillon’s personal life, but he thinks the issue is something state leaders need to recognize.
“You know, some folks will look at this as the vilification of Andy Dillon and I say to them that it’s just not that,” he said. “This is a little less about Andy Dillon, though of course today he may be the poster child for that conversation and that question,” he said.
Dillon’s office did not return a request for comment. The governor’s office said it’s “a personal, private health issue that the treasurer has addressed” and they’re moving forward from the issue.
The Republican-led Michigan House approved legislation earlier this month that would require some people to pass drug tests in order to receive welfare benefits. The measure now heads to the Senate where it’s likely to advance.
According to the legislation, if there is “reasonable suspicion” a welfare recipient is using illegal substances, that person would be required to take a drug test. People who test positive for drugs the first time would be referred to a substance abuse treatment center and could continue receiving benefits throughout their treatment. But if a person tests positive subsequent times or drops out of treatment, their family benefits would be stripped.
Supporters say the measure is designed to break the cycle of poverty by helping drug users find treatment. But opponents say it is just a punitive attack on low-income individuals who rely on state assistance to get by.