AP: Kansas proposal would drug test benefit recipients

1/19/2013

TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas would require people receiving cash assistance from the state to take drug tests and cut off unemployment benefits to job seekers who fail tests administered by potential employers under a proposal being drafted.

TOPEKA (AP) — Kansas would require people receiving cash assistance from the state to take drug tests and cut off unemployment benefits to job seekers who fail tests administered by potential employers under a proposal being drafted.

Senate Vice President Jeff King confirmed Friday that he's working on the measure. The conservative Independence Republican, who also serves as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman, said he expects to have a bill drafted and introduced within two weeks.

His drug-testing requirement would apply to applicants for and adults participating in the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. Also, prospective employers would be required to tell the Department of Labor when a job seeker who's receiving unemployment benefits fails a company drug test or refuses to take one — so the state can cut off benefits.

His proposal already has the endorsement of conservative Republican House Speaker Ray Merrick, of Stilwell. The Democratic leaders in both chambers also said they're open to the idea. King said his proposal isn't designed to punish people who receive benefits from the state so much as to identify those with potential drug problems so that they can receive help.

"Helping them to get drug treatment and basic job skills, so they can get and keep a job and provide for their families — that to me is the best example of trying to help someone," King said during an interview.

King noted that last year, Congress allowed states to set drug-testing requirements for people receiving unemployment benefits. He said his proposal covering job seekers is similar to laws in Arizona, Georgia, Indiana and Mississippi.

Kansas requires people receiving unemployment benefits to look for work, and King said most employers in his home county require applicants to take drug tests. Thus, King said, someone can look for a job, not get it because of failing a drug test and keep receiving unemployment benefits.

The state Department for Children and Families has the legal authority to do drug testing of cash assistance recipients, but spokeswoman Angela de Rocha said, "It historically has been used very rarely."

She said the department is not involved in King's proposal, other than to provide him information. The program provided about $42 million in cash benefits for about 32,000 Kansas residents, including children, during the fiscal year ending June 2012.

Conservative legislators have raised the possibility of drug tests for cash assistance recipients periodically in the past but have faced questions about the potential costs of the testing and follow-up drug treatment if it were offered by the state. Also, some advocates for the poor have raised privacy issues.

But Merrick told reporters Friday: "We need to tighten it down. If I'm giving you something, I ought to have something in return."

King said he's drafting his legislation so that if a parent participating in TANF fails a drug test, the portion of their cash assistance for their children could go to an interested third party to be used on their behalf.

Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, and House Minority Leader Paul Davis, a Lawrence Democrat, said they're willing to consider King's proposals, if they're coupled with genuine efforts to provide drug treatment.

But Hensley said if the legislation is punitive, "then I would have some concerns about it."

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Online:

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at www.twitter.com/apjdhanna

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