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Bill that requires drug testing for unemployment, welfare benefits advances

  • Eagle Topeka bureau
  • Published Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, at 11:43 a.m.
  • Updated Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013, at 2:53 p.m.

— Kansans getting unemployment or welfare benefits could be forced to take drug tests anytime state officials have reasonable suspicion that they’re using controlled substances under a bill advanced by a Senate committee on Monday.

That suspicion could arise from a person’s demeanor, missed appointments, arrest records or past drug test failures.

Those who fail could ask for a second test, but they would have to pay the roughly $50 fee unless they pass, in which case the state would reimburse them.

Benefit recipients who test positive couldn’t get continued benefits until they complete drug treatment and job skills programs. And then they would face periodic urine tests.

Those who fail a second test would lose state assistance for at least a year. A third failure would ban them from benefits altogether.

Children of people who fail could still get welfare through a third party who could pass a drug test.

Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, D-Wichita, opposed the move. Last week, she told the Senate Commerce Committee that the bill targets women because many women are the heads of households getting state assistance. She said it allows state officials to essentially profile people for potential drug use based on demeanor, arrest records and other records.

But the measure appears to have strong support among conservative Republicans who dominate the Senate.

“This is not punitive,” said Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence. “We want to identify people with drug addiction problems, give them the help they need and give them the job skills they need to kick the habit, get a good paying job and provide for their families.”

Senate Bill 149 also makes anyone convicted of a first drug felony after July ineligible for welfare for five years. Any subsequent conviction would lead to a lifelong ban from welfare.

The state would need to hire four more employees to deal with drug testing and treatment management under the bill.

The drug testing program and treatment is estimated to cost about $1 million the first year, after any savings from people losing benefits...

A fiscal note accompanying the bill says treatment costs about $6,300 per person. But it’s unclear what the state’s share would be after figuring in Medicaid and other programs that might help pay for treatment.

King said he understands full drug treatment costs about $2,200. In some cases, addiction specialists recommend less intense treatment that is less expensive, he said.

King said the “vast majority” of the money needed for testing and treatments will come from the federal government.

Under Gov. Brownback’s leadership, the state has trimmed the maximum length of welfare benefits from 60 months to 48, and it is requiring more active job searching to get continued benefits, which total an average of $280 a month.

Drug testing for benefits is increasingly popular, with at least 36 states considering some form of testing since 2011.

Some substances are easier to detect through standard urine tests than others. For example, heavy marijuana users sometimes test positive for several weeks after their last use while a meth user may be able to pass a test a few days after stopping their drug use, according to studies.

Sen. Jay Emler, R-Lindsborg, said he has concerns about what substances people would be tested for and how expensive treatment programs may be.

“I think there are just some things that need to be cleared up,” he said.

Reach Brent Wistrom at 785-296-3006 or bwistrom@wichitaeagle.com.

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