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Missouri bill would require drug testing for welfare recipients

Welfare recipients in Missouri would have to undergo drug testing under legislation expected to hit the state House floor this week.

Supporters of the proposal say the state shouldn't subsidize drug use. But critics say the law targets the poor and that the state's drug treatment programs already have lengthy waiting lists, leaving few options for people who want to get clean.

Applicants for the state's welfare program who tested positive for drug use would be ineligible to receive benefits for some time under the proposal, at most three years.
However, other family members would still be eligible for assistance through a third-party provider.

Proponents of HB1377, sponsored by Rep. Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston, say the state needs to protect taxpayers, who might be unintentionally giving drug users money to feed their addictions, not their families.

"If they're doing drugs, I want them off the program," said Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany.


This isn't the first time Missouri's Republican lawmakers have proposed drug testing for welfare beneficiaries. Brandom proposed nearly identical bills about drug screening in 2009 and 2008. Last year, a proposal passed in the House but was held up in the Senate.

Sen. Jason Crowell, R-Cape Girardeau, has proposed legislation to require drug testing for the state's welfare recipients for the last four years. He said such measures would push welfare recipients to get clean or face losing their funding. "You can't work if you're doing meth," he said.

However, some question the fairness of testing poor people when others who get government subsidies are not tested.

"If we're honest, anyone who gets state funding should be put through the screening," said former state Sen. Patrick Dougherty, D-St. Louis. "If we only do this one population, the end result is that we're only focusing on the poor."


In previous years, drug-testing bills were amended to include drug testing for elected officials and their staffs. This year, drug testing for elected officials already has been proposed as a separate bill by Rep. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-University City.

We're in a time period in which we need to restore trust," she said as she presented her bill to the House Ethics Committee.

Every elected official would be tested before taking office and every two years thereafter under Chappelle-Nadal's measure. If an elected official tested positive twice, he or she would be required to vacate the position.

Rep. Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho, who chairs the House Ethics Committee, raised the question of privacy for elected officials but said he fundamentally supports the idea of drug testing. Other lawmakers wanted to know who would fund drug tests. Chappelle-Nadal's bill calls for elected officials or their staffs to pay for the tests.

Chappelle-Nadal said she supports broadening drug testing even further, to all those who receive some type of public aid payout, a number that has grown as the economy faltered.

Before the recession began, the number of Missouri residents receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families had been decreasing. But since September 2008, the number of TANF recipients has risen 12 percent.

Bills calling for drug testing as a condition of receiving public assistance have been proposed in other states, with mixed legal results.

Michigan was one of the earliest states to experiment with requiring mandatory drug tests for welfare recipients. The state passed the law in 1999, but it was struck down by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003. The court ruled that drug testing welfare recipients violated the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

Since then, lawmakers in other states have submitted similar proposals, and some have been successfully implemented.

In November, Arizona began to require drug testing for the more than 22,000 residents receiving TANF benefits. Citing budgetary concerns, Arizona's adult recipients now must fill out a survey about illegal drug use in order to apply for cash assistance. Officials estimated Arizona could save $1.7 million a year by requiring drug testing.

Arizona state Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said Arizona's lawmakers modeled their law after proposals introduced in Missouri in previous years.


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Tags: drugs, missouri, poverty, welfare
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