By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A proposal to require drug testing as a condition for receiving welfare advanced in the House on Monday after the sponsor refused to accept an amendment to drug test lawmakers.
The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Julia Hurley of Lenoir City was approved on a voice vote in the House Finance Committee. The companion bill is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor.
The proposal differs from original legislation that the state’s attorney general said was constitutionally suspect.
The opinion said that approach would violate the constitutional rights of applicants who have a right not to be drug tested unless there is suspicion that they are taking illicit drugs.
Under the amended version, new applicants would undergo a special screening process. If suspicion is raised after the screening, then the applicant would be drug tested.
Democratic Rep. Johnny Shaw of Bolivar asked Hurley if she’d accept an amendment to require drug testing for lawmakers, but Hurley refused.
“So you don’t think that legislators should abide by the same law?” Shaw asked.
Hurley responded she wanted the bill to stay as is.
A representative from the state Department of Human Services said there’s no guarantee the proposal won’t be challenged, but said it’s better than what it was.
Under the proposal, the department will develop the screening tool. A person who tests positive for drug use after the screening will be given an opportunity for treatment.
If the individual refuses treatment, then he or she will be ineligible for benefits for 6 months. Recipients who fail the drug test three times will lose their benefits for a year.
State officials said they plan to set up a pilot program next year, and hope to screen and drug test applicants statewide by 2014.