Column Date 2009-03-14

Report from Florida: it's getting weird down here

Mike Bennett, one of my local Florida state senators, has a plan to save us money and prevent fraud.

He suggests, in a new bill he recently introduced in Tallahassee, the state capitol, that anyone receiving unemployment be subject to random drug testing.

Sen. Bennett doesn't seem to care that we'd be testing people who are not under suspicion of anything. Nor does he care about invading a person's privacy just because he or she is out of work.

No, this is to make sure the unemployed among us don't take advantage of the roughly $275 per week they receive while they're hunting for a job and trying to keep food on the table.

He also wants the cost of this random drug testing to be deducted from the unemployment check of the person who's tested.

Mean-spirited? It sets new standards.

But, to my way of thinking, Mike has stumbled onto a good idea – he's just aiming it at the wrong folks.

I think we should use random drug testing to go after bigger fish: all those people who will be getting money from the U.S. government's $800 billion dollar bailout.

$800 billion! Now we're talking real money – and that's the money Senator Bennett should be watchdogging.

Let's do random drug testing of investment bankers before we hand over the billions they're asking for, so they don't lose their concentration and buy packages of worthless mortgages again.

Let's test all those mortgage company executives who rushed out to lend money to people who had no possibility of ever paying it back.

Let's randomly test executives at the insurance and bond rating outfits, who completely lost touch with reality when they agreed that portfolios made up of total garbage deserved their best AAA ratings.

In fact, here's how I would apply the good Senator's own words to this bigger problem:

"...if they're going to draw billions of taxpayer dollars from the bailout, our bankers should be able to withstand a random drug test. I think that's fair."

"We want to make sure they're using our money for the right reasons...I guarantee some of them are supporting their addictions to fancy conferences and corporate jets on your tax dollars."

Before we give a single penny of our money to a banker or mortgage company exec, I'd like to know if they're still smoking the stuff they were smoking last year.

I'm sure Senator Bennett would agree.

Fair is fair.

©2009 Peter Tannen