More states consider welfare drug testing bills

File Photo by Kelley McCall/AP

Republican lawmakers in three states this week said they will introduce legislation that would require welfare recipients to undergo drug testing in order to receive benefits.

The Ohio State Senate held a second hearing Thursday night on a proposal to establish pilot drug-testing programs in three counties. Under the proposal, applicants would be required to submit a drug test if they disclose that they have used illegal substances. The proposal was first introduced in the spring, but pressure from opponents led Gov. John Kasich to squash the bill in May.

Virginia Republicans are also reviving a bill that was shelved earlier this year. The 2012 version failed after the state estimated it would cost $1.5 million to implement while only saving $229,000. The bill’s sponsor, Delegate Dickie Bell, has not introduced the updated version yet, but says he’s found more cost effective options.

In Florida, Republicans found similar results when they enacted the drug testing requirement for welfare recipients. The plan, which was touted as a cost-saving measure, turned out to be so expensive that it ultimately cost the state an additional $45,780–even after savings from benefits that were denied to applicants who failed the tests. The measure failed to move forward in part because only 2.6% of applicants did not pass the test–a rate three times lower than the percentage of estimated of illegal drug users in Florida. The law has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge since October.

A third drug testing bill is being in floated in Kansas where the rhetoric used to justify the policy focuses less on the potential costs, and more on the desire to help rehabilitate addicts. Republican State Senate Vice President Jeff King, who predicts the legislation will be passed this year, said the law is not intended to be punitive, adding, “If folks test positive, we need to help them get help and help them get the job skills they need to kick the habit to get a job and keep a job.”

The proposed Ohio legislation takes a similar approach, earmarking an additional $100,000 to go towards drug treatment programs.

Ohio, Virginia, and Kansas are not the first states to take up the measure since Election Day. Lone Star State Gov. Rick Perry himself filed a bill in the Texas state legislature in mid-November, saying he wanted to keep Texas money out of the hands of drug dealers.

Although it is on the books in a handful of states, a Michigan law requiring drug testing of welfare recipients was ruled unconstitutional nearly a decade ago, in a ruling that found it violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable searches.