St. Louis Legislator Vows to Sue State Should Welfare Provision Become Law
|State Rep. Don Calloway|
The freshman legislator is the savant who's filed a bill to finally change that embarrassing stretch of Interstate 70 known as the "Mark McGwire Highway" to the "Jack Buck Memorial Highway." Calloway (a former corporate attorney with Thompson Coburn who now works for the defense firm Sindel Sindel & Noble) has also filed legislation aimed at limiting the caseload for overworked public defenders.
But where Calloway is making news this week is in his vocal criticism for House Bill 30 that would require recipients of the state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to undergo drug tests. Those found to be on drugs could be ineligible for certain state welfare services for up to a year. (As the bill's critics maintain, the drug tests could also keep the drug user's children and dependents from also receiving aid.)
In an impassioned speech on the House floor this week, Calloway told legislators that he would volunteer his legal services to the first family denied services because of the drug tests.
"I hadn't planned on making that offer," says Calloway. "It was just a light bulb of inspiration. But I do plan to back it up. To me this bill is facially unconstitutional."
Calloway argues, for example, that the state does not require drug tests of other people to whom it doles out money and services. "We hand out tax credits like candy, but the people who get those credits are not drug-tested," notes Calloway. "Neither are thousands of state employees who receive tax-payer money in the way of salaries. This bill seeks to go after just one group of people."
Unfortunately, says Calloway, it might take a legal motion to kill the legislation. Yesterday the bill passed its second reading in the House by a margin of 109 to 45 and will likely head to the Senate this month.
"There are 74 Democrats in the House [and 89 Republicans], so by the vote count it's obvious that some Democrats voted for the measure," says Calloway. "They're feeling pressured that if they don't support it, their opponents can send out fliers at election time saying that 'Joe Schmo voted to provide welfare to drug addicts.' That's unfortunate. People are more concerned with the political fallout and not with the welfare of the people."