ELLSWORTH — Are any of Maine’s 186 legislators rolling joints ahead of roll-call votes, popping pills prior to committee meetings or shooting up before suiting up at the State House?
“I have constituents who think we’re smoking crack down there after the latest budget,” said Rep. Larry Lockman (R-Amherst), referring to the $6.7-billion biennial budget passed earlier this year.
That concern led Lockman to request a bill for the second session of the 127th Legislature titled, “An Act to Require Random Drug Testing of Legislators.”
Though details of how such a program might work or what it would cost have not been fleshed out yet, the title makes clear what it would do. Lockman said it would give Mainers peace of mind to know whether legislators are acting under the influence of illicit substances.
“The only way we can reassure the public is to do random drug testing,” he said.
Lockman said he also asked for the drug-testing bill out of a sense of fairness.
“If we’re going to ask welfare recipients to be drug tested,” he said last week, “I don’t see why we shouldn’t be, too.”
Earlier this year, Maine began requiring convicted drug felons seeking Temporary Assistance for Needy Families aid to submit to drug testing. Governor Paul LePage and his administration pushed for wider drug-testing requirements, but those proposals did not find adequate support in the Legislature.
Whether Lockman’s proposal will make it to the Legislature is unknown. The state’s legislative body reconvenes in January for the second session. Legislation in that session is limited to certain types of bills, including those on budgetary matters, bills submitted by the governor or “of an emergency nature approved by the Legislative Council,” as described on the state’s website.
The council consists of the president of the Senate, the speaker of the House and eight other legislative leaders. It is set to meet on Thursday, Oct. 22, to review the 38 pages of requests for bills that have been submitted.
The reaction to Lockman’s proposal from legislators whose districts include Hancock County communities was mixed. None of those reached this week said they had heard of it prior to being asked about it by The American, and several expressed doubt that it would make it past the Legislative Council.
“I think it’s probably going to be immediately rejected,” said Rep. Rich Malaby (R-Hancock), in part because of what it might cost.
Malaby said he understands where Lockman is coming from with his proposal, and said he heard a similar idea mentioned by a colleague on the Health and Human Services Committee that he serves on.
Malaby recalled that during a discussion on whether to drug test welfare recipients, Rep. Matthew Peterson (D-Rumford) said he would support the proposal if such testing was also required of legislators.
Peterson’s suggestion was also mentioned by Rep. Brian Hubbell (D-Bar Harbor), who sits near Peterson in the House chamber. Like Malaby, Hubbell said he understands Lockman’s point but questioned the value of drug tests in general.
He said other states have voted to drug test welfare recipients — indeed, the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports at least 13 states have put some type of test or screening in place — but said many of them found it “wasn’t worth the expense.”
“There is not really the anecdotal connection that people suppose there is,” said Hubbell, between welfare recipients and drug use.
A majority of states have at least considered drug testing welfare recipients at one point. The NCSL reports 36 states saw proposals on the subject in 2011.
Rep. Dick Campbell (R-Orrington) said he was not opposed to Lockman’s idea — “If we’re going to propose something, we ought to abide by it,” he said — but questioned if there was a real need for such testing of legislators.
Likewise, Rep. Walter Kumiega III (D-Deer Isle) said he could see Lockman’s logic but did not see the proposal as worthwhile.
“I don’t think there’s any point to it,” he said. Like others, he doubted the Legislative Council would advance the bill.
Though not as popular as the calling for drug testing of welfare recipients, the idea of giving similar tests to lawmakers is not without precedent.
The Associated Press reported in 2014 that Alabama state Sen. Trip Pittman, a Republican, proposed a bill that would have required drug testing of that state’s legislators. Lockman referred to Pittman’s proposal when discussing his own bill idea.
Pittman had previously proposed drug testing for welfare recipients, and of his bill for legislators said, “We are willing to lead by example.”
The fate of Pittman’s proposal was not clear, but other states have also looked at the subject of lawmakers and drug use. The AP said the Kansas Legislature “passed a law in 2013 for testing of its members and other key state officials,” while a decade earlier Louisiana “repealed a law for random drug testing of elected officials.”
The matter has even come to the attention of the U.S. Supreme Court. In 1997, it heard a case out of Georgia, which had passed a law requiring certain candidates for high-level public office (governor, cabinet positions, judges and district attorneys, among others) to submit to drug tests.
The court ruled 8-1 against the state. It said Georgia’s law did not “fit within the closely guarded category of constitutionally permissible suspicionless searches.”
The state said the law was just “because the use of illegal drugs draws into question an official’s judgment and integrity … and undermines public confidence and trust in elected officials.”
Under questioning from the court, however, the state’s attorney acknowledged there was nothing to suggest Georgia had a particular problem with “officeholders being drug abusers.”
Then-Chief Justice William Rehnquist cast the dissenting vote in the 1997 case. He said the state “need not wait for a drug addict, or one inclined to use drugs illegally, to run for or actually become Governor before it installs a prophylactic mechanism.”
Several local legislators said they were not opposed to Lockman’s proposal. While he said he wanted to talk with Lockman to find out more about his bill, Sen. David Burns (R-Washington County), whose district includes part of eastern Hancock County, said he wasn’t opposed to it in concept.
“I’m not afraid of drug testing,” he said.
Similarly, Sen. Kimberley Rosen (R-Hancock County) said, “I certainly don’t have a problem with it.”
State Rep. Ralph Chapman (D-Brooksville), like others, said he understood the concept of Lockman’s proposal. He said he is “not aware of any legislators having a particular drug problem,” though he acknowledged it is possible someone might have one.
Chapman said drug testing legislators would come at a cost to taxpayers, and questioned what they would be getting as a return on their investment. He called it a “costly solution that may not be very effective,” and said he thinks the same thing might be said of other drug testing, such as that done on certain welfare recipients.