The Kansas House Wednesday gave final approval to a bill that requires Kansans who seek public assistance to undergo drug testing. The bill, HB 2275, passed by a margin of 99-26. It now heads to the state Senate.
Sponsored by Sen. Kasha Kelly (R-Arkansas City), the bill targets the 14,000 Kansans who receive cash assistance from the state Department of Social Rehabilitation Services. Recipients of financial support in temporary aid for families, general assistance, child care support, and grandparents as caregivers programs would all be subjected to drug testing. It would not apply to non-cash benefits, such as food stamps and medical care.
The bill envisions testing one-third of the target population each year. A positive drug test would result in an evaluation and possible drug treatment. Failure to complete evaluation and/or treatment would result in the termination of benefits, as would a third positive drug test.
As the Chronicle reported last week Kansas is only one of a number of states where legislatoes are pushing similar bills. Drug testing public assistance recipients was okayed, but not required, under the 1996 federal welfare reform bill. But the only state to actually implement such a plan, Michigan, was shot down by the federal courts, which held that it violated the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Kelly, unconcerned about constitutional niceties, said the state should work to keep parents off drugs and advance the interests of children. "Shouldn't you be fearful if you're using?" she said on the House floor.
Social Rehabilitation Services Secretary Don Jordan testified that only 3% to 8% of clients would likely test positive for marijuana, cocaine, or other illegal drugs. That figure is slightly below overall nationwide drug use levels. The program would cost $800,000 a year, he said. The bill will not be implemented unless the legislature makes a specific appropriation to cover the cost, but in a fiscal note, legislative analysts suggested the possibility of using asset forfeiture proceeds to fund the program.
The bill was opposed by the Kansas Public Health Authority, but legislators proved receptive to arguments like those of Rep. Brenda Landwehr (R-Wichita), head of the House Health and Human Services Committee, who said if the bill failed to pass it is as if the legislature would be declaring: "Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer, we don't really care if someone buys drugs with your hard-earned money."
Rep. Marti Crow (D-Leavenworth) wasn't buying it. "Testing someone because they're poor? Where does that make any sense?" he asked. "This is crazy and mean."
But Crow was in the minority. The bill now goes to the state Senate.