AP: Kansas Senate approves drug testing bill

3/1/2013

TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas senators approved a bill Thursday that would require many of the state's elected officials and applicants for certain welfare benefits to undergo drug testing.

TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas senators approved a bill Thursday that would require many of the state's elected officials and applicants for certain welfare benefits to undergo drug testing.

Applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families would have to be tested, as well as the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general and legislators once they are in office. If there is a reasonable suspicion of drug use, those seeking benefits would have to undergo more testing and treatment.

The Senate approved the bill 31-8, sending it to the House.

Supporters said the measure is aimed at helping the poor kick their addictions, get needed job training skills and find employment. Opponents argue the measure targets the poor and women and would have adverse effects on children.

Senate Vice President Jeff King, the bill's author, said he sought the measure based on concerns of his constituents in southeast Kansas who lament "government payments fostering illegal drug use."

"This proposal is not intended to be punitive," said King, an Independence Republican. "I sincerely believe this approach will get individuals addicted to illegal drugs the help they need to be productive and gainfully employed members of society."

The TANF program provided about $42 million in benefits for about 32,000 Kansas residents, including children, during the fiscal year ending June 2012.

Democrats voting against the bill said the measure was unfair and perpetuated stereotypes that poor people are drug users.

"These individuals are already humiliated and embarrassed to ask for help," said Sen. Oletha Foust-Goudeau of Wichita.

Added Sen. Tom Hawk, a Manhattan Democrat, "I believe if I vote for this bill, instead of helping people I'd be hurting people."

The bill would require the Department of Children and Family Services to screen for illegal drug use applicants for TANF benefits. The state would provide drug treatment and job skills training to those who test positive, using TANF or Medicaid funds if the applicants qualify for the health care services.

Estimates provided during Senate debate put the cost of providing drug treatment between $2,200 to $6,300 per person, depending on the length of the program.

Senate Majority Leader Terry Bruce, a Hutchinson Republican, said Kansas would be a leader in the nation by not only testing for substance abuse but also paying for treatment to help residents end dependence on drugs.

Opponents of testing the poor added the requirement for elected officials, saying they should face the same scrutiny.

The bill would require the Department of Administration to establish a drug screening program based on reasonable suspicion of illegal drug use for elected officials. It would also cover mental health positions, the Kansas School for the Blind, Kansas School for the Deaf and state veterans agencies. It also covers all state law enforcement authorized to care weapons, corrections officers, parole officers and heads of state agencies appointed by the governor.

The amendment didn't specify how the testing of public employees and elected officials would be paid for by the state.

Rep. Marvin Kleeb, chairman of the House Commerce, Labor and Economic Development Committee, said he was comfortable with all the provisions of the measure heading to his committee, including those for public officials and employees.

"It doesn't bother me," said Kleeb, an Overland Park Republican.

Another element of the measure would require prospective employers to tell the state when a job seeker who's receiving unemployment benefits fails a company drug test or refuses to take one. That would allow the state to cut off the benefits.

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