TOPEKA — The Senate approved a bill Thursday requiring drug testing for welfare and unemployment benefits recipients – as well as lawmakers – suspected of drug use.
The 31-8 vote, mostly along party lines, advances Senate Bill 149 to the House.
Gov. Sam Brownback has been noncommittal about his support for the concept of testing welfare recipients.
The proposal calls for drug tests whenever state officials have reasonable suspicion that someone receiving or applying for welfare or unemployment benefits is using drugs. Suspicion could be raised during addiction screening by the Department for Children and Families or by missed meetings or criminal records.
A proposal pushed by Democrats to also test any lawmaker suspected of drug use was added to the bill. Suspicion of drug use by lawmakers could be identified by the Department of Administration based on criminal records or other complaints. The governor, lieutenant governor and their staffs already have to take drug tests, administration officials say.
Benefits recipients who fail the test would lose state assistance until they complete drug treatment and job skills programs. Lawmakers who fail would also have to enter treatment and job skills training.
Republicans say the proposal will provide people with drug addictions help in kicking their bad habits and prevent state tax dollars from being spent on illegal substances.
Senate Vice President Jeff King, R-Independence, who crafted the bill, said it is not intended to be punitive, and he has stressed that the children of people who fail tests will still be able to get state assistance via a third-party surrogate who can pass a drug test.
Democratic Sens. Oletha Faust-Goudeau of Wichita, David Haley of Kansas City, Tom Hawk of Manhattan, Laura Kelly of Topeka, Anthony Hensley of Topeka and Pat Pettey of Kansas City opposed the bill. Lindsborg Republican Sen. Jay Emler and Topeka Republican Sen. Vicki Schmidt also opposed it, saying too many questions about cost and treatment remain unanswered.
Hawk said an addiction specialist he talked to said drug testing welfare recipients probably has more to do with political posturing than anything else. He said the specialist also said drug testing is largely ineffective in detecting drug use, except for marijuana, which remains detectable for a few weeks. Many narcotics can be detected by standard tests only within a few days of use, according to several testing labs and detection schedules.
Faust-Goudeau said that poor Kansans are already embarrassed to seek state assistance and that testing them for drug use makes it worse.
“That’s just outrageous,” she said.