02/07/2012 06:29

A bill that would subject certain welfare recipients to drug testing

By: Jim Nolan | Richmond Times Dispatch
Published: February 04, 2012 Updated: February 04, 2012 - 12:00 AM

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A bill that would subject certain welfare recipients to drug testing as a condition of receiving benefits narrowly cleared a Senate committee Friday.

The bill had failed in committee when the Senate was under Democratic control the past four years.

Senate Bill 6, sponsored by Sen. Stephen H. Martin, R-Chesterfield, cleared the GOP-controlled Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee on an 8-7 party line vote — but not without a fight from testy Democrats.

"Are there any people receiving money from the commonwealth who are tested for drugs other than poor people?" Sen. Yvonne B. Miller, D-Norfolk, asked pointedly.

"This is not an intent to get at a class of people," Martin responded, saying the loss of benefits would be limited to the "individual using the drugs and not the family."

The measure would require local departments of social services to screen every participant for possible drug use and test those it believes could be using controlled substances.

A positive test or refusal to participate in the screening would result in the loss of Temporary Aid to Needy Families benefits for a year, unless the person complies with a drug-treatment program. The benefits still could be paid to a non-drug-using adult family member.

Sen. Richard H. Black, R-Loudoun, said that as a full colonel in the military, he was required to take a drug test. Sen. Charles W. Carrico Sr., R-Grayson, said he did the same as a state trooper.

But Sen. Mamie E. Locke, D-Hampton, wondered why the state isn't willing to test the CEOs of corporations to which the state provides tax credits.

And Sen. Mark R. Herring, D-Loudoun, said the $2.7 million the testing program would cost would be better spent on substance abuse and treatment programs, for which he said there is limited funding and waiting lists.

"We're singling out a group of people that feeds a misimpression about them," said Herring, noting that the state does not screen all students who receive Tuition Assistance Grants.

The approved measure was referred to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration. Similar legislation in the House of Delegates was approved in committee and is under review in the House Appropriations Committee.




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