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Welfare drug testing bill advances to Senate Finance Committee

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A bill that would require drug testing of welfare recipients is now before the state Senate Finance Committee.

The legislation passed the Senate Committee on Health and Human Resources Tuesday afternoon. It calls for a three-year pilot project that would be implemented first in three West Virginia counties beginning next year.

Senator Ryan Ferns (R-Ohio, 01) said the goal of the bill is to address the state’s drug epidemic while keeping the cost of the program down.

“A number of states have attempted similar pieces of legislation and some of them have not got a good return on their investment, so we’re being very cautious not to have a negative effect from a cost stand point,” he said on Tuesday’s 580 Live.

Currently, 12 states have similar programs that require the testing. Five of those states offer treatment to those who test positive. Most of those positive tests have been for marijuana or prescription drugs. Also, some states suspend benefits from one month to one year.

For the West Virginia bill, Ferns said a positive test would require the individual to complete a substance abuse and job training program. He said as long as he or she remain enrolled in that program, they can continue to receive state assistance. A second positive test would require another round of drug treatment and a suspension of benefits for one year. A third positive test would result in termination from the program.

Ferns said only those suspicious of using drugs would be tested. According to the bill, the state Department of Health and Human Resources is allowed to have “reasonable suspicion” to believe a person is on drugs.

“If during that screening process, the individual from the department identifies that there’s qualities indicative of substance abuse, that would qualify as reasonable suspicion,” Ferns said. “The second is if the individual applying has a prior conviction of a drug related offense within the five years immediately proceeding the application.”

“This is a way to not only get them into drug treatment, but also to make sure they’re not taking advantage of their benefits,” Ferns added.

The bill passed the Senate Health Committee last regular legislative session, but never made it to the governor’s desk.

The 2016 session continues through Mar. 12.

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