Politics & Government

Proponent of drug tests says test legislators too

TOPEKA — A House Republican responded to criticism of her bill requiring random drug testing of Kansans on state assistance by proposing the same requirement for legislators.

Rep. Kasha Kelley, R-Arkansas City, said Thursday that the proposal was a direct response to allegations her House-passed bill was a mean-spirited attempt to punish impoverished people.

"I have requested an amendment to add legislators to the list of elected officials required to pass drug screening," Kelley told members of the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee.

The committee took no action on House Bill 2275, which was overwhelmingly passed during the 2009 legislative session by the House. The new requirement for legislators wasn't in the bill when adopted by the House.

Skepticism greeted Kelley's proposed amendment.

"She's serious?" said Sen. Roger Reitz, R-Manhattan. "For heaven's sake."

"You might think some legislators are on drugs given some of the things that happen in the Capitol," said House Minority Leader Paul Davis, D-Lawrence. "However, I don't think we need to resort to mandatory drug testing."

Sen. Jim Barnett, R-Emporia, chairman of the Senate Health Committee, said the state could improve monitoring of recipients in the state cash assistance programs without involving the 125 representatives and 40 senators in drug screening.

Under Kelley's original bill, the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services would establish a testing program for recipients of Temporary Assistance to Families and General Assistance. About one-third of people in these programs, or 8,400 people, would be screened annually under the program Kelley outlined. The agency said the initiative would cost an estimated $1 million annually.

Somewhere between 8 and 12 percent would test positive for marijuana, cocaine, crack or some other illegal drug, officials estimate.

Those found to have ingested illegal substances the first and second time would be directed to treatment programs. Failure to complete treatment would result in loss of cash assistance benefits. A third positive test would trigger automatic termination from the state aid programs.

During testimony on the bill, the secretary of SRS denounced the three-strikes-and-you're-out measure.

"I would call myself an opponent," said SRS Secretary Don Jordan. "We believe we have an effective program in place."

Jordan said SRS had a well-developed system for determining which aid recipients were likely to be at high risk for using illegal drugs. It doesn't involve laboratory evaluation of urine samples, he said, but does compel people in need of care to obtain treatment.

"Implementing a formalized drug testing program will entail additional monitoring, tracking, sampling, recipient notification, and case coordination on the part of SRS staff and our treatment network," Jordan said.

Kelley said many legislators had received complaints from constituents who pointed to a perceived inequity of being required to pass drug tests for employment while people receiving tax dollars weren't held to the same standard. She said the underlying goal was to help people "emerge a victor over drugs, a more productive citizen, and — if children are involved — a better parent."

"Simply put," she said, "we must ensure that dollars are going for diapers and detergent instead of drugs. It's truly incumbent on us to stay focused on this issue."