By Phillip Smith, StopTheDrugWar.Org
Bills that would force welfare applicants and recipients to undergo drug testing are moving in the state legislatures in Austin and Topeka. In Austin, a Texas Senate committee approved a drug testing bill, while in Topeka, the Kansas House approved a bill that would require drug testing of both welfare and unemployment recipients.
Both bills seek to avoid the constitutional problems that have plagued earlier welfare drug testing laws in Florida and Georgia. In those states, legislators passed bills calling for suspicionless mandatory drug testing of all recipients, which has been repeatedly blocked by the federal courts. The Kansas and Texas bills, on the other hand, only require drug testing upon "reasonable suspicion."
The Kansas bill, Senate Bill 149, says that reasonable suspicion may be based on any number of factors, "including, but not limited to, an applicant's or recipient's demeanor, missed appointments and arrest or other police records, previous employment or application for employment in an occupation or industry that regularly conducts drug screening, termination from previous employment due to use of a controlled substance or controlled substance analog or prior drug screening records of the applicant or recipient indicating use of a controlled substance or controlled substance analog."
The bill would require anyone who fails a drug test to get drug treatment and jobs skills training at government expense. Those who fail a second time would be ineligible for a year. The bill also would prevent anyone who is convicted of a drug felony after July from getting welfare for five years. A second conviction would mean a lifelong ban. House and Senate members also would be tested if there is a reasonable suspicion about their behavior.
The bill passed the Senate at the beginning of March, but the House version contains some minor changes that will have to be reconciled before final passage.
The Texas bill, Senate Bill 11, was introduced by Sen. Jane Nelson, the Republican chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, which approved it Tuesday. It would require applicants to the state's Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program to be screened for drug use. Those who appear to be using drugs or who have a previous drug conviction would be subject to drug testing. Applicants who tested positive would loss TANF funds for a year.
"Drug abuse destroys families, harms children and prevents individuals from living healthy, independent lives," Nelson said in a press release on Tuesday. "Because TANF is a direct cash assistance program, we have a responsibility to ensure that these funds are not being used to support a person's drug habit."
The bill has the support of Gov. Rick Perry (R) and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R). "Texas taxpayers will not subsidize or tolerate illegal drug abuse," Perry said in a statement in November. "Every dollar that goes to someone who uses it inappropriately is a dollar that can't go to a Texan who needs it for housing, child care or medicine."