The Senate approved a bill Thursday requiring drug testing for welfare and unemployment benefit recipients -- as well as lawmakers -- suspected of drug use.
The 31-8 vote, mostly along party lines, advances Senate Bill 149 to the House.
Gov. Sam Brownback has been non-committal about his support for the concept of testing welfare recipients.
The proposal calls for drug tests whenever state officials have reasonable suspicion that someone receiving or applying for welfare or unemployment benefits is using drugs. Suspicion could be raised during addiction screening by the Department for Children and Families or by missed meetings or criminal records. A proposal pushed by Democrats to also test any lawmaker suspected of drug use was added to the bill. Suspicion of drug use by lawmakers could be identified by the Department of Administration based on criminal records or other complaints.
Benefit recipients who fail the test would lose state assistance until they complete drug treatment and job skills programs. Lawmakers who fail would also have to enter treatment and job skills training.
The governor, lieutenant governor and their staffs already have to take drug tests, administration officials say.
Republicans say the proposal will provide people with drug addictions help kicking their bad habits and prevent state tax dollars from being spent on illegal substances.
Senate Vice President Jeff King, a Republican from Independence who crafted the bill, said it is not intended to be punitive, and he has stressed that children of people who fail tests will still be able to get state assistance via a third party surrogate who can pass a drug test.
Democratic Sens. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, of Wichita; David Haley, of Kansas City; Tom Hawk, of Manhattan; Laura Kelly, of Topeka; Anthony Hensley, of Topeka; and Pat Pettey, of Kansas City, opposed the bill. Lindsborg Republican Sen. Jay Emler and Topeka Republican Sen. Vicki Schmidt also opposed it, saying too many questions about cost and treatment remain unanswered.
Sen. Hawk said an addiction specialist he talked to said drug testing welfare recipients probably has more to do with political posturing than anything else. He said the specialist also said drug testing is largely ineffective in detecting drug use, except for marijuana, which remains detectable for a few weeks. Many narcotics can only be detected by standard tests within a few days of use, according to several testing labs and detection schedules.
Sen. Faust-Goudeau said that poor Kansans are already embarrassed to seek state assistance and that drug testing them makes it worse.
"That's just outrageous," she said.
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