CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Drug felons could see some extra benefits, including food stamps and other financial programs, if a bill passes through the House at the West Virginia Legislature.
Despite lots of debate Thursday morning, the bill did pass the Senate floor 27-6, allowing the state to opt out of a federal statute that currently bans those convicted of drug crimes from receiving assistance.
Supporters say this makes it fair, since those convicted of violent crimes are already are eligible after finishing their sentence.
"Often times, families and children are left behind, and what this would say is we're not going to deprive children and families of these folks once they've paid their debt to society," Sen. Corey Palumbo said. "We're not going to deprive these folks of their benefits."
Other lawmakers want the federal ban to stand, saying it holds felons accountable.
"Too often we have what I label as 'hug a thug' programs where we are simply too quick to forgive and forget," Sen. Evan Jenkins said. "There needs to be some consequences for one's actions."
Jenkins referred to other laws that have recently been amended, lessening the repercussions of different crimes.
Those in favor of the recently introduced bill say it's all about leveling the playing field and looking out for families.
"There's no reason to, in my mind, distinguish between drug offenders or any other felons that are eligible for these benefits," Palumbo said. "It's all federal money. There's no state dollars going to these programs."
More than one dozen states have passed similar bills -- with West Virginia, one that's now caught in the balance.
"We have laws that are pretty tough on the books that send a clear message that we want you abiding by the law," Jenkins said. "The idea that we're starting to roll back those one at a time is the wrong direction to go if we're really trying to keep our neighborhoods safe."
This was a non-partisan issue, but members of the House think it will be tough to pass since it is a controversial bill.
The House Judiciary Committee will take up the bill early next week.
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