Dane County executive Joe Parisi is dialing back his threat to sue Wisconsin over its attempt to make passing a drug test an eligibility requirement for those receiving public assistance.
"The tack we're taking is that we're going to reach out to the federal government to request that they deny the waivers," Parisi says. "We're going to try to head it off at the pass."
In his 2016-17 budget, introduced on Feb. 3, Gov. Scott Walker proposed drug testing citizens who receive food stamps and unemployment compensation and certain BadgerCare enrollees and welfare recipients.
But because federal dollars support many of these programs, waivers are required for the state to test recipients. During his budget address, Walker claimed the goal of drug testing is to wean people off of government benefits.
"Why are we doing this?" Walker asked during his address. "Well, because we know that we can get people jobs. Each week, employers tell me that they have positions available -- they just need individuals who can show up for work and who can pass a drug test."
Those who fail the test will be ineligible to receive benefits for one year but will be offered treatment, Walker said.
During a press conference at the Dane County Jobs Center the day before Walker introduced his budget, Parisi announced the county -- which administers many of the assistance programs in question -- plans to sue the state if the Legislature approves the provisions.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 12 states have passed laws requiring drug testing for those seeking public assistance. But the federal government has refused to grant waivers to allow it. And in December, a federal appeals court ruled unconstitutional a drug testing law approved by Florida in 2011.
"The governor doesn't have a legal leg to stand on," Parisi says.
He says his office will urge officials within the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to deny the waivers.
According to figures provided by Parisi's office, the drug testing provisions would affect 10,000 Dane County residents and cost upwards of $750,000 annually.
"People who've fallen on hard times should be treated with dignity and respect," Parisi says. "We shouldn't treat them like criminals."