TOPEKA — State lawmakers may have to take a test to prove they’re not on drugs.
That’s because senators tentatively agreed Wednesday to add lawmakers to a bill that requires drug tests of any welfare or unemployment recipient who state officials reasonably suspect is using illegal substances.
“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” said Wichita Democratic Sen. Oletha Faust-Goudeau, who opposed testing the poor and unemployed but wanted to include lawmakers if the idea were to pass.
Lawmakers, however, shot down another proposal that would have required drug tests of businesspeople controlling companies that get economic incentives from the state.
The 29-7 vote against including business owners appeared to hinge on criticism that many companies have thousands of shareholders and corporate officers, often outside the state, who might have to be tested.
Sen. Jeff Melcher, R-Leawood, called the moves to add lawmakers and state-assisted company owners “political theatrics.”
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said theatrics are in the eye of the beholder, maintaining that the idea of testing welfare and unemployment recipients could be considered political theatrics as well.
Senators gave initial approval to the bill on a voice vote; they plan to conduct a final vote on Thursday.
The debate over testing lawmakers and company owners followed a four-hour discussion over SB 149, which requires drug tests of anyone state officials have reasonable suspicion is using drugs while receiving state welfare or unemployment payments.
The suspicion could stem from someone’s demeanor, missed appointments, arrest records or past drug test failures.
Those who fail the test would lose state benefits until they complete drug treatment and job skills programs. If they fail a second test, they would lose benefits for a year. A third failure would ban them from welfare or unemployment benefits for life.
Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence, said the bill isn’t punitive. He said it’s an attempt to help people with addiction problems get help and prevent state tax dollars from being used to buy illegal drugs.