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Public Benefits Drug Test Bills Move in Three States

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #780)
Drug War Issues
Politics & Advocacy

Bills that would require recipients of public benefits such as welfare or unemployment benefits to submit to drug testing have advanced in three states. On Monday, an unemployment drug testing bill passed the Arkansas Senate. On Tuesday, a welfare drug testing bill won a Senate committee vote in North Carolina. And on Wednesday, a welfare drug testing bill passed the Texas Senate.

The Arkansas bill, Senate Bill 38, would require random, suspicionless drug testing of people receiving unemployment benefits. Those seeking unemployment would have to sign a waiver to allow for random drug testing, and they would be ineligible for benefits if they refused to sign or failed the drug test.

It passed the Republican-led Senate on a 25-5 vote and now goes to the House.

"Arkansas law states that you have to be adequately seeking employment, and by that you have to pass a drug test since so many employers require drug tests," said bill sponsor Sen. Jeremy Hutchinson (R-District 33), who said 80% of employers in the state require drug tests. His bill was "more of an enforcement mechanism than anything else," he added.

The bill is being opposed by the ACLU of Arkansas, which is threatening to fight it if it becomes law. But even if the bill gets through the House, Gov. Mike Beebe (D) has signaled it might not survive his veto pen.

"We have concerns about whether the bill will put us in violation of the federal unemployment laws administered by the US Department of Labor," Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample told Reuters. "There are also continued concerns as to whether the cost of implementing such a program would produce any real savings in offset."

The North Carolina bill, Senate Bill 594, sponsored by Sen. Jim Davis (R-Macon), would require applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to undergo mandatory suspicionless drug tests at their expense. Applicants would be reimbursed if they tested negative, but denied benefits if they tested positive -- until they have entered and paid for drug treatment.

Things got testy before the measure passed the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday.

"If you have money to buy drugs, you have money to buy food, you have money to support your family," Davis said. "You don't deserve public assistance." Non-drug users "will gladly" pay for drug tests because they know they will be reimbursed, he said.

"If they're already there because they need food stamps, where are they going to come up with that money? They're scraping the bottom," Sen. Ellie Kinnaird (D-Orange) shot back.

Bill Rowe of the North Carolina Justice Center told lawmakers that studies showed drug use is no more common among welfare recipients than the general public, and that similar laws in Florida and Michigan had been found unconstitutional, sparking an angry reaction from one lawmaker.

"Our Fourth Amendment doesn't allow suspicionless testing of people," Rowe said. "There's no decision that says this is okay."

"You're okay with (drug users) getting federal dollars if they've had a doobie and get the munchies and need more food stamps?" challenged Sen. Tommy Tucker (R-Union). "Sit down."

Noting that the bill "mostly affects poor people and a significant number of them people of color," Sen. Angela Bryant (D-Rocky Mount) said its sponsors were letting their "prejudice" show. "There's a lot of people getting government money," she said. "Let's not start with poor people on this. Let's start with ourselves. When you run for election, you should have to take a drug test. If we give a scholarship, you should have to take a drug test."

"I really reject the notion of injecting race into this thing," Davis shot back. "I'm sick and tired of it. This is not a racial bill."

The bill was approved on party lines and now goes to the Senate Health Committee.

The Texas bill, Senate Bill 11, would require TANF applicants to undergo a drug use assessment, and if there is "good cause to suspect" drug use, they must then undergo a drug test. A positive drug test would result in a denial of benefits for six months, with a second positive drug test resulting in a denial of benefits for a year, although they could be restored after six months if drug treatment is completed.

People who had prior drug convictions or previous positive drug test results would face mandatory drug testing.

"Taxpayer dollars shouldn't be used to subsidize a person's drug habit," said bill sponsor Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound).

"Welfare should never subsidize the irresponsible choices of otherwise capable people who instead elect to stay at home, play video games, and get high with their friends," Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) said.

The bill passed the Senate on a 31-0 vote after Nelson agreed to language sought by Democrats that ensured that children of parents who tested positive wouldn't lose their benefits. It now goes to the House.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


kickback (not verified)

I believe I read about some of these folk`s earlier . Popular Mechanics magazine from February 1938 told the truth . Titled " hemp: the new billion dollar crop " . The Hearst and DuPont family business was under attack by a plant . The Hearst " timber " and the DuPont " synthetics " business . Harry Anslinger was w/ one of `em`s niece . Who is this " Roger DuPont " ? Wonder what his interest is in Cannabis / Hemp prohibition ? Is his wife from the Hearst family ? Roger DuPont is a " drug testing consultant " to corporate America . See the article over at the  alternet website , by Isabel McDonald , 4-10-13 . Titled " Send them to jail that day " .  Old 77 year old Dupont is up to his old tricks as usual . This is the scoundrel that needs to be confronted for what he is . This is the madness behind the curtain .

Fri, 04/12/2013 - 5:51am Permalink
Opie O'Phile (not verified)

"You're OK with (drug users) getting federal dollars if they've had a doobie and get the munchies and need more food stamps?" challenged Sen. Tommy Tucker (R-Union). "Sit down."


Absolutely brilliant argument. We can't give food stamps to those damn druggies, they'll get the munchies and need more food stamps to pay for it!

Welfare should never subsidize the irresponsible choices of otherwise capable people who instead elect to stay at home, play video games, and get high with their friends," Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst (R) said.


Yes those federal welfare dollars are marked for bailing out the banks whose "irresponsible choices" damn near torpedoed the economy. Apparently welfare is only for those who launder drug money, not those who actually consume the drugs. 

Fri, 04/12/2013 - 12:59pm Permalink
Matt B (not verified)

...this is why I'll never vote Republican.

Dear Republicans,

This is why the idiotic civil rights hating Democrats win elections.... because of your "Good Ol' Boy" politicians acting like spoiled, fat children who didn't get their third piece of cake for dessert. The rest of the country has moved beyond your "Southern Strategy". Where's that "super-majority" that your God, Richard Nixon, promised you?

Keep blaming the "doobie smoker" while the country continues to become unrecognizable... that's all you do when pushed into a corner. You have no good ideas or solutions, so you blame everyone else but yourselves.

Again, this is all about cannabis -- a form of medicine -- and there will still be plenty of alcoholics and crackheads on welfare. It has been shown that these Unconstitutional bills cost taxpayers extra money.

I'm sorry for those Americans who live in these states, but honestly you guys need to harrass these politicians 1000x more than what you're doing currently...

Fri, 04/12/2013 - 2:08pm Permalink
Anonymous25 (not verified)

In reply to by Matt B (not verified)

I quite agree the government shouldn't try to subject people on welfare to a drug test and as they seem to merely be applying their focus on cannabis instead of other more harmful drugs they choose to focus on a select group. Instead of taking out your own anger and inability to come up with a plan to actually get this country out of debt you are simply wasting more money putting us deeper in debt. Why not find a way to control it if in the correct psrameters legalizing cannabis could actually help this country it would drastically reduce the amount of people in prisons and state correctional institutions saving taxpayer money as an added pro to legalizing cannabis it could be sold only to people say 21 and older after all alchohol is sold to people of age with proper ID and the government could tax the sales making even more money i mean california legalized cannabis for several different medical afflictions. Such as cancer, glaucoma, and even bipolar disorder as a form of medication to treat these conditions. And besides there will still be crackheads, meth addicts and even herion users who would still be on welfare so what does that help? I have read several research studies that show cannabis is less addictive than alchohol and is non-habit forming besides doesn't the bible state that god wanted us to make use of every seed bearing plant and cannabis produces seeds while i may not be a religious person myself i don't believe in the government trying to force blame for the dreadful economy on people on welfare it merely seems as if this once great country appears to slowly but surely becoming communistic in nature the government blames people on welfare for their problems just because they can't come up with any good ideas to help this country out of this rut we seem to not only be stuck in but as it goes on we get stuck even deeper there are other ways the politicians just need to get their noses out of the, climb off their high horse and do something to actually help the entire country and ALL of the people in it.
Tue, 05/21/2013 - 7:05am Permalink
Blake from Australia (not verified)

Seems you guys have some very odd lawmakers up there in the land of the free?

That they would proffer a positive drug test as proof that someone,

a)   has a drug habit.


b) is using taxpayers dollars to subsidize said habit.

Maybe a generous person just gave that someone a toke. I mean, you still have some regular, non lawmaker kind of people up there who are still willing to share what they have with the less fortunate, don't you guys?

Or maybe that someone had just got back from hanging out with said lawmakers friends and colleagues in Washington or Colorado.  All without a single taxpayer dollar being misappropriated.

And another thought while I'm here good people, why do your odd lawmakers insist that these proposed drug tests be random,  while making it quite clear (well sort of clear) that they are wishing to detect people with  a habit?  That is, someone who uses a drug habitually and can't stop, along with the not stopping, of the requisite and gross misappropriation of public funds?  Hey guys, if a person has a habit, then a mutually convenient and agreed upon time for conducting the said tests, should always provide very rewarding results for all.

If I might make the suggestion however, that rather than random drug tests, random tests to determine any odd persons sound reasoning ability are what is in order. And with that we can expect the problem of welfare recipients misappropriating taxpayer dollars to cease along with the expedient end of prohibition.




Fri, 04/12/2013 - 4:59pm Permalink
confused (not verified)

I live in Texas.  I moved from CO.  Texas and its governor and all of republican reps are baby killing creeps who are more interested in making sure everyone knows they are god.  The majority wants one thing and the republicans make sure we the people dont get it. I am as history minor  and the Republicans look like NAZIS.  

Thu, 04/18/2013 - 2:59pm Permalink
joebanana (not verified)

This bill means people eating food legally, and stealing it, or stealing something to trade for food, maybe from your garage. Drug users are going to use drugs, whether they can eat while doing it doesn't matter because they will, one way or another. The government can't treat a medical condition as a crime, because that in itself would be a crime. A crime requires a victim, and a criminal, with harm being inflicted, and a legal remedy in a court of law. Legislating a criminal where there wasn't one, because of a medical, not a criminal condition, is in itself a criminal act.

Sat, 04/20/2013 - 8:09am Permalink

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