Drug Testing W.Va. Lawmakers Discuss Measures To Fight Abuse February 20, 2013
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In 2009, then-delegate Craig Blair pleaded for a floor vote on his proposal to randomly test people receiving welfare.
"We need to be able to take this up," Blair said. "Vote it up. Vote it down. Do what you think is the right thing to do but let's give it that opportunity."
Blair lost that battle. Since then, the question of whether testing those getting state assistance has been debated every year without any laws being passed.
But, that could change this session. House speaker Rick Thompson is promising action.
"I truly believe that we can come up with a piece of legislation and leadership says let's come up with a piece of legislation that addresses these concerns," Thompson said.
Thompson says past efforts to approve a drug testing bill were derailed by constitutional concerns and questions about how to best protect children in difficult situations. Federal benefits, including food stamps would not be affected.
"We know it's a problem," Thompson said. "No one wants to see somebody on drugs getting state assistance. Nobody does that I know of, I certainly don't. It's just figuring out the answer to that problem that's the hard part at times."
Following a two-year absence from the legislature, Blair is back, this time as a senator representing the eastern panhandle. He's joined with fellow freshman senator Mitch Carmichael to continue fighting for a way to implement drug tests and then help those who test positive.
"The fact of the matter is it's always been the right thing to do," Blair said. "And this was not my idea, this was the people's idea out here. If we are drug tested to go to work, certainly you can do that to get temporary assistance."
"We test the individual that's receiving the state aid," Carmichael said. "We do not take away their benefits if they test positive on the first test. We ask that they, we require in fact that they go into a treatment program. Then the benefits continue to flow, they are required to test again in 30 days to see if they are clean or not. If they're not clean then there are repercussions from a benefits standpoint. But at no point do we take the benefits from the children. At no point."
West Virginia isn't the only state looking to tackle the drug problem through testing. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, seven states have already passed laws requiring drug testing or screening from public assistance applicants and recipients, Some of those laws are being challenged in court. The NCSL says 28 states, including West Virginia, offered drug testing proposals last year.
Blair and Carmichael say they are encouraged by Thompson's promise that the house will pass a drug testing bill.
"I'm excited and not excited for myself because that doesn't mean anything at all," Blair said. "It's exciting for the taxpayers and the people of West Virginia."
"We do this, Kennie, from a compassionate perspective," Carmichael said. "We want to help people get off of the drug addiction and become productive members of our society. That's our motivation for doing this and I think it's the right thing to do and I'm thrilled that it's making progress."
Blair and Carmichael say their measure will not impact food stamp eligibility. That is federally protected. They add their proposal also contains a mandate that lawmakers be tested before taking office.
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