TOPEKA — The House swiftly approved a bill Tuesday requiring drug testing of unemployment and welfare recipients suspected of substance abuse.
BY BRENT D. WISTROM
Eagle Topeka bureau
Those who fail tests would have to go to drug treatment and job skills training paid for by the state and federal government. Those who apply again and fail again would lose assistance for a year.
The bill also would prevent anyone who is convicted of a drug felony after July from getting welfare for five years. A second conviction would result in a lifelong ban.
“We’re trying to help people get job training and substance abuse treatment,” said Rep. Ron Ryckman Jr., R-Olathe.
No one spoke in opposition to the bill, and it passed on a vote of 106-16. All south-central Kansas representatives voted for the bill except for Democrats Carolyn Bridges, Gail Finney, Roderick Houston, Patricia Sloop and Ponka-We Victors, who voted no, and Republican Rep. Les Osterman, who was absent after undergoing heart surgery last week.
The Senate has already approved the bill; it’s likely the Senate will agree to a couple of minor tweaks approved by the House before advancing the bill to Gov. Sam Brownback.
The bill allows for testing of House and Senate members as well if reasonable suspicion arises.
A person’s demeanor, missed appointments, police records or failed drug tests with a potential employer would qualify as reasonable suspicion.
Those who fail a first test could request a second test at a different testing facility, but if they fail the second test, they must pay for it.
An opponent of the bill said “reasonable suspicion” is a subjective term and could be used as it has been in the war on drugs to unfairly target women of color.
Most people who get temporary assistance for needy families, typically referred to as welfare, are women, and requiring drug tests unfairly targets them, said Elise Higgins, a lobbyist with the Kansas National Organization for Women.
Setting up a drug test program and related expenses are expected to require the state to hire four full-time employees and would cost about $1 million next year. That includes about $461,000 in state money.