UPDATE: Bill for drug testing receives approval in the House

Wednesday, January 26, 2011 | 9:29 p.m. CST

JEFFERSON CITY — House lawmakers gave first-round approval to a bill that would mandate drug testing for Missouri welfare recipients Wednesday.

The bill moved on with a 121-37 vote. If passed, the law would require work-eligible recipients of the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to undergo drug testing should they be deemed potential drug users by a social service agent with any amount of "reasonable suspicion."

Those who fail the test would lose $58 from the amount given to them by the government, roughly 20 percent of the $292 that Rep. Jill Schupp, D-St. Louis County, said is the amount an average three person family can expect to receive. The remainder of the funds would still be received by the family, only they would be assigned to a third party who would appropriate them to the care of the child. This restriction would last for a full year, at which point the applicant would be given the opportunity to re-test.

Opposition to the bill came largely from Democrats, with only one Republican representative joining them.

Rep. Kevin Elmer, R-Nixa, said it was the bill's cost that swayed his vote.

"It had a $2 million fiscal note," Elmer said. "And we, as Republicans, are going to sit there and vote for that kind of growth in government?"

Former director of a statewide anti-poverty group, Rep. Jeanette Oxford, D-St. Louis City, also opposed the bill. She cited concerns about how it would not only affect the parents but also the 70,000 children receiving benefits from the program.

"Taking away that little bit of money is apt to lead to deeper problems: homelessness, utility disconnection, things that aren't good for the kids," Oxford said. "There is no parents' portion truly. ... All that money is needed by that household to survive."

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston, argued that "taxpayers do not want to see their hard-earned dollars being spent for substance abuse products illegally."

One out of every three Democrats supported the bill; Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, was one of them. While he voted in favor of the bill, he said he hopes that over time a better version will arise, specifically with regard to the definition of "reasonable suspicion."

According to Kelly, the bill would ideally call for the testing of individuals "who are failing to comply with other requirements, like the work training requirement."

The bill will be subject to one more vote by the House before it moves to the Senate for final approval.

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Ed Ricciotti January 26, 2011 | 10:58 p.m.

Will those who receive corporate welfare be subject to these drug screenings? Executives from those who companies who receive tax credits and breaks should be subject to drug screenings before receiving any government money. I bet that's not in the bill.

(Report Comment)
Luna Paydon February 11, 2011 | 7:29 p.m.

"The remainder of the funds would still be received by the family, only they would be assigned to a third party who would appropriate them to the care of the child."
my mother is a social worker and this is what she's most worried about. Won't this take a ridiculous amount of resources? Imagine the court cases with these 3rd parties that aren't using the money for the child. Imagine the hours that social workers are gonna have to put in to making sure the 3rd parties are doing the right thing.
I feel like lawmakers never just ask the professionals. They should have asked social workers about this legislation.

(Report Comment)
Paul Allaire February 11, 2011 | 7:53 p.m.

Send them to IRAQ!!!

(Report Comment)
Allan Sharrock February 11, 2011 | 8:36 p.m.

I am not sure that asking Social workers on how to keep undeserving people from getting tax dollars would be a good idea.

(Report Comment)

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