CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The bill that would require drug testing welfare recipients passed the state House of Delegates Wednesday after a nearly two hour long debate.
Delegate Mike Pushkin (D-Kanawha, 37) spoke out against the bill before the House voted to approve the measure with a 91-8 vote.
“I want to believe that this bill would actually help people that might need help getting into treatment centers, but I’m having a hard time believing that,” he said.
Pushkin said he knows state lawmakers want to fix the drug epidemic, but said it doesn’t look that way on the surface. He said cuts that have been made to the state budget could have been used to get people off drugs.
“We can’t do that, but we can require poor people to get drug tested even though in reality, it hasn’t worked in any other state,” he said.
“I believe this is a bill that deals with perception rather than reality,” Pushkin added.
SB 6, also called the “Welfare Drug Testing Act,” calls for a three-year pilot program to screen applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits in West Virginia where there is a “reasonable suspicion” they may be using drugs.
The Senate passed the bill last month with a 32 to 2 vote.
Supporters of the bill said it would help locate drug addicts to get them into treatment centers.
“Personally, I hope this does break the state’s budget,” said. Del. Matthew Rohrbach (R-Cabell, 17).
Rohrbach said it’s better that addicts get the help they need through TANF compared to an employer.
“Would you rather have an individual fail a drug test through the TANF program or would you rather have them fail the drug test where the employer is just going to kick them out the door, where the TANF program we’re going to a have a mechanism to get them into treatment?” he asked delegates.
If an applicant fails the drug test on a first offense, he or she will maintain their benefits, but will need to enroll in a drug treatment program and a job training program. On the second offense, the applicant has the potential to lose their benefits for up to 12 months while completing the same programs. The third offense calls for a loss of benefits for life.
As proposed, the state Department of Health and Human Resources would handle drug treatment programs for those that would fail the test.
“At least this is going to require DHHR to provide some sort of programs to these folks, which is a population that really needs the help, I think,” said Delegate Larry Rowe (D-Kanawha, 36).
Jennifer Meinig, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia, said in a news release she was disappointed with the passage of the bill.
“The legislation is based on false stereotypes and a political agenda that distracts us from the true causes of our state’s fiscal insolvency, and instead lays unsubstantiated blame on the poor by implying their misuse of limited government assistance on illegal drugs,” Meinig said.
“This bill raises serious constitutional concerns and will waste precious taxpayer dollars to address an unsubstantiated problem by implementing a “solution” that has been shown to increase costs.”
Currently, 13 states have legislation requiring some form of a drug test for welfare recipients.
The Senate will need to consider changes made in the House before the bill heads to Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s desk.