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Drug testing Kentucky welfare recipients gaining steam

by Joe Arnold

WHAS11.com

Posted on January 30, 2012 at 5:59 PM

Updated Monday, Jan 30 at 6:22 PM

(WHAS11)  A controversial measure that would require drug testing for some Kentucky welfare recipients to receive public assistance may get a vote in the House Health and Welfare Committee.

"It's a possibility," said Rep. Tom Burch (D-Louisville), the Chairman of the committee.  Burch did not allow a committee vote on a similar bill last year and is opposed to the new version, as well.

"The bill to me does not take care of the problem," Burch said.

Several dozen House members have signed on as Co-sponsors of the bill, Speaker Greg Stumbo (D-Prestonsburg).

"The point of this is the safety of the kids and to make sure the kids are getting the food," explained Rep. Lonnie Napier (R-Lancaster).

"They're not receiving it now," Napier continued, "and in lots of cases, people on illegal drugs are trading their food that they purchase from the food stamp to someone for a small amount of dollars in order to buy illegal drugs."

In the updated version of Napier's bill, not all welfare recipients would be drug tested - only those who caseworkers determine show signs of drug use.

That "probable cause" nuance should address concerns that the bill was unconstitutional based on protections against unreasonable search and seizure.

The American Civil Liberties Union argues that food stamp recipients aren't the only Kentuckians who receive government money, so to target that one group is an unconstitutional double standard.

"If you're on welfare, where are you going to get the money to get the test?" Burch said, "So it seems to me that this bill is picking' on the poor and it's not contributing anything."

"We're not just picking on poor people," Napier countered.  "If you go down to the hospital as an RN to get a job and you have to be drug tested, that's not jumping on poor people."

Napier said the bill is more about motivating people to stop illicit drug use than depriving anyone of public assistance. 

A welfare recipient who is suspected of drug abuse would first be asked to complete a questionnaire, then may be required to take a drug test, Napier explained.  A positive test result would place that person on a sixty day probationary period, during which time the benefits would not be interrupted.

"If they come back after 60 days, and they test positive again, we'll go and give them another 14 days to get in a rehab place," Napier said, "And if they don't at the end of the 14 days, they would lose their public assistance."

Yet, children and any other parent would not lose the benefits, Napier said, suggesting that someone else would be appointed to oversee the children's allotment.

"We're not taking any food away from the children," Napier said. 

"You just stepped on a land mine with that kind of stuff," said Terry Braylor after he completed his grocery shopping.

"I am definitely in favor of anybody receiving any kind of welfare having a drug test.  If you cannot be employed you should not get a handout being a druggie," Braylor said.

"If they are getting money for food and stuff they should be spending it on that," agreed Barbara Stewart, "And if they are not, then they shouldn't be getting it."

Yet, some question whether the idea paints with too broad a brush.

"It's like it's making the correlation that people that are down on their luck and have to ask the government for help for food stamps necessarily take drugs," said LeeAnn Hardin, "It doesn't necessarily go hand in hand."

"You're killing a fly with a snow shovel with this bill, you know," Burch said.

"Most of the people will pass (a drug test)," Burch continued, "Now, there's people who certainly abuse it.  But that's the Cabinet's responsibility to catch these people."

"Why should we as taxpaying citizens supply the funds for illegal drug habits on the taxpayers' money?" Napier said, "It's just not right."

Napier said he would wait until after a legal challenge to House redistricting and the filing deadline for elected office passes before asking Burch for a hearing on the bill.

 

 

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