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Drug-testing bill defeated in Senate

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By Timothy Cox

The House version of a bill that would force drug testing on welfare recipients in three counties failed in a Senate committee by a 5-5 vote on Wednesday, although the language could be revived later this session.

House Bill 1007, which also calls for drug testing of lawmakers, passed 72-23 in the House last month.

The bill states that any parent receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families who fails a drug test will stop receiving support for six months. The welfare payments would then only be reinstated if the parent has undergone drug treatment.

Testimony against HB 1007 included arguments that the legislation did not consider cases of inaccurate test results, included vague language, would be too expensive for the Family and Social Services Administration to administer, and could lead to criminal activity.

C. L. Day, president of The Concerned Clergy., said he believes some parents might turn to prostitution and robbery if they don't have other means of paying for a treatment program.

"How would the parent continue to provide for this family?" Day asked.

The bill's author, Rep. Jud McMillin, R-Brookville, said the bill would stop crimes rather than create them.

"We're trying to stop them from committing crimes. Everybody in this room knows that drugs lead to crime," McMillin said.

Annie Bowers, a junior at DePauw University, asked the committee to picture a single mother whose car breaks down before a meeting. According to the bill, a parent who fails to attend a required meeting for welfare is considered to be under suspicion of using drugs.

A "refusal" to take a drug test can lead to the suspension of benefits for three months. The bill does not say whether a "refusal" applies to parents who are willing to be tested but have no transportation the day of their drug test.

"Something as simple as missing a meeting can qualify you for the added burden of being deemed 'reasonably suspicious' and then having the added responsibility of taking a drug test," Bowers said.

DePauw University sophomore Terrell Moore said the bill, which requires only one positive drug test to suspend welfare checks, leaves room for innocent parents to be wrongly accused of drug use.

"Because prescription drugs are commonly mistaken for controlled substances during screening, requiring a second test to confirm the first makes sense," Moore said. "I suggest that such a test be administered to those who test positive under reasonable suspicion before losing their benefits."

Lucinda Nord, president of the Indiana Association of United Ways, spoke on behalf of the Indiana Coalition for Human Services. Nord said the Indiana Department of Workforce Development did a pilot program last year that found only 13 out of 1,264 recipients of unemployment benefits tested positive for drug use.

"The FSSA has testifiedÉ that it costs over a million dollars to implement this program for possibly saving, maybe, $212,000 over the two-year period, which assumes a 10 percent fail rate," Nord said. "What we know from statistics is there's really only about a two percent fail rate."

Also, the bill does not say how often drug tests will be administered or what the consequences are if one parent in a family with two adults tests positive for drug use and the other doesn't.

"I could stand up here literally for the next several hours and dispute most of the testimony that came and show you why the concerns you brought up have been thought through and have been addressed," said McMillin. "It's a good bill. It does the right thing."

Although the HB 1007 failed to pass the committee, the provisions will remain alive through the end of the session. Language from any bill that has passed one chamber is eligible to be put into another bill during the conference committee process at the end of the session.

Timothy Cox is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students and faculty.

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