Welfare Drug Testing Legislation Debated in Kentucky

By: The Associated Press Email
By: The Associated Press Email

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Legislation that would require welfare
recipients to be tested for drug use is gaining popularity among
Kentucky lawmakers, more than 50 of whom have signed on as
co-sponsors.

It doesn't matter that the measure stands little chance of
passing into law. In a legislative election year, incumbents want
their names on proposals that tend to be popular with blue-collar
voters, as this one is.

"Everybody says they're for it," said state Rep. Lonnie
Napier, the Lancaster Republican who has been pushing the measure
for the past two years. "I can't go anywhere unless I'm stopped by
people, and they tell me they support that bill and ask, `How can I
help you?"'

Napier, a relentless cheerleader for the proposal, said
businesses typically require employees to pass a drug screening.
Why, he asks, would welfare recipients not be held to the same
standard?

Legislation was filed in 36 states last year, but passed only in
Arizona, Florida and Missouri. Florida is under a federal court
injunction that's blocking implementation of the drug-testing
program there.

So far this year, measures have been introduced in 24 states
that would require testing of people receiving Temporary Assistance
to Needy Families. In 14 states, the proposals would require
testing of people receiving any type of welfare assistance,
including food stamps.

Few are likely to pass, including the one in Kentucky that is
expected to be quashed by state Rep. Tom Burch, chairman of the
House Health and Welfare Committee. Burch said he didn't allow a
vote on the proposal in his committee last year, and he said he had
no intention of relenting this time around.

The Louisville Democrat said the bill unfairly targets the
neediest of Kentucky residents - single mothers and children who
depend on welfare programs for survival.

"I don't think much of it," Burch said. "There's nothing in
the bill that protects the child. All it does is single out poor
people. I wanted to amend it so that every business that takes
state or federal money has their employees checked twice a year in
order for them to continue to qualify. That's the only way I'd ever
let that bill out."

Burch, of course, realizes that such an amendment would ensure
it couldn't pass the full state legislature.

Napier brushes aside arguments from critics that the bill
essentially punishes children for the behavior of parents who use
drugs. He said he has softened the language in his bill to require
drug screenings only when welfare workers have strong reason to
believe a recipient is using. He also included a requirement for
welfare recipients to pay for drug testing if the results are
positive, an attempt to silence critics who said the proposal would
increase the cost of the state's welfare program.

Napier, who has served in the legislature since 1985, has picked
up most of the House Republican delegation as co-sponsors and
several Democrats, including House Speaker Greg Stumbo and former
House Speaker Jody Richards.

Some of the state's most conservative voices have spoken in
favor of Napier's proposal, despite constitutional concerns.

"Protecting taxpayers and individual rights of welfare
recipients seem in conflict on this issue, but Rep. Napier's bill
handles the problem better than any other effort in the nation,"
said tea party activist David Adams. "Federal courts have ruled
repeatedly that people applying for benefits can't be drug tested
either universally or at random because of the Constitution's
restriction on unreasonable searches and seizures. House Bill 26
requires a finding of probable cause and the courts have made clear
that is necessary for this kind of government action."

Adams said widespread drug testing of welfare recipients "as a
fishing expedition" could cost more than it would save. But he
said Napier's new approach of testing only those who show signs of
drug use wouldn't be financially burdensome.

Michael Aldridge, executive director of the American Civil
Liberties Union of Kentucky, said he's hopeful the legislation
stays mired in Burch's committee.

"Basically, it's a violation of an individual's right to
privacy," Aldridge said. "Most every American uses federal
government funds on some level, whether it be for health benefits,
or whether it be to the extreme of receiving welfare. And we don't
think that one individual's rights should be subject to a higher
level of scrutiny. We're not testing every American who receives
any type of federal benefit."


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