A bill that would subject some welfare recipients to drug testing passed the Republican-controlled House Health, Welfare & Institutions Committee on a 14-8 vote along party lines. Democrats protested to no avail.
"What are we trying to do here? asked Lionell Spruill Sr. (D-Chesapeake). "Now we're picking on people who are poor," he complained in remarks reported by the Richmond Times-Democrat.
Spruill asked whether others who receive largesse from the state, whether it is corporations with tax breaks or General Assembly members whose salaries are paid by taxpayers, should be tested as well.
"What about us?" he asked. "We make a big $17,600 a year -- why don't you test us?"
Supporters of the bill insisted their attention wasn't aimed at any particular group, but at keeping a close eye on the taxpayers' money.
"They're not being singled out," said Head. "As stewards of public money, we have a responsibility to make sure that that money's being spent right."
The Department of Planning and Budget has estimated that the bill would cost the state more than $1.5 million in the next fiscal year and about $1.2 million annually thereafter due to costs for staff, substance abuse screenings, assessments and drug testing. Welfare benefits would decrease by about $250,000 in the first year and about $500,000 thereafter.
Welfare or unemployment drug testing bills are on the agenda in other states as well. See our overview on the issue from last week here.