JEFFERSON CITY — A bill that would require drug testing for welfare recipients heads to Gov. Jay Nixon's desk after receiving final approval from the Missouri House of Representatives.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston, allows Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients to be subject to a drug test if there is a "reasonable suspicion" they are using controlled substances. If the recipient tests positive, they could lose their benefits for three years. The bill passed with enough votes to override a potential veto from the governor.
Brandom's original bill called for only a one-year loss of benefits after a positive drug test, but the Senate changed that provision. The Senate also added a section requiring photo identification to appear on a recipient's electronic benefit transfer card. The House chose to adopt the Senate's changes instead of sending the bill to conference with only a few days left in session.
Brandom said her bill sends a strong message.
"The purpose of the bill is for us to take positive stands to prevent the illegal use of controlled substances," Brandom said.
Rep. Steve Cookson, R-Fairdealing, also supported the bill and said his vote was about the children.
"For those who really care about children, anything we can do to lessen the ability of their parents to use and abuse drugs," Cookson said.
Legislative staff estimate the bill could cost the state $1 million, and it was a Democrat who opposed the bill based on its cost.
"Most of you don't know that I am a fiscal conservative," said Rep. Clem Smith, D-Velda Village Hills. "I am wondering about this $1 million price tag."
Other opponents argued the bill does not solve the problems of drug use in the state.
"Until we solve the underlying problem, you can take away the money all you want, but the parents are still going to find drugs," said Rep. Genise Montecillo, D-St. Louis.
The bill passed 113-34 with 16 Democrats voting in its favor and one Republican voting against.