By one vote, the state Senate today voted down a bill to drug-test some welfare recipients.
The bill, from Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson, would have required drug screening of people applying for the Virginia Initiative for Employment Not Welfare program. Should there be an indication that the applicant might be using drugs, Carrico said, that person would then be tested.
Carrico argued that his bill was not the same as bills in other states that were either unconstitutional or cost more money than they saved, because it required testing only if a screening process indicated an applicant might be using drugs.
Sen. Steve Martin, R-Chesterfield, said the idea is to ensure that taxpayer dollars aren't being diverted from needy children to a parent's drug habit.
"There is no expectation whatsoever that there will be a higher proportion of folks among this population ... that's not what this is about at all," Martin said. Instead, he said, the bill was driven by "a concern for those few households --- and no greater households than the norm --- might be going to support a drug problem which is helping to destroy the home."
But Democrats said the question about the bill wasn't about its cost, but its message, and that the message it sent was that the government believes poor people are on drugs.
"Drug tests for welfare recipients are demeaning," said Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton. "Why are poor people singled out for testing? Why not legislators? ... Why is it assumed the poor and only the poor are using drugs?"
Carrico said he had no objection to drug-testing legislators.
Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, said bad behavior "happens across all income brackets" and that while proponents said it would protect taxpayer money from being misused, she felt it would be a waste of taxpayer money to pay for drug testing.
The Senate vote was 20 against the bill, 19 for it, meaning that one senator did not vote.