Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV


November 30, 2012

Welfare drug testing: Proposal merits consideration

Outgoing Delegate and now Senator-elect Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, is promising to introduce legislation in West Virginia that would require random drug testing for welfare recipients. Previous efforts by the Republican Party to pass such legislation in the Mountain State have been dead on arrival in Charleston.

However, a lot has changed in a single election cycle. Republicans have now captured 46 of the 100 seats in the House, as well as gains in the state Senate. And Carmichael, the current House minority whip, says he found huge support for a Republican-led effort to conduct random drug screenings for those who receive public assistance while stumping for the state Senate seat.

And he has at least one strong ally in the Senate — Delegate Craig Blair, a Republican who won a seat in the Nov. 6 election. Blair got the idea of welfare drug testing rolling a few years ago, only to see it die in a House committee.

While it is still a very emotional topic, we too believe opinions are changing on this issue. Our state — and southern West Virginia in particular — is fighting a rampant drug problem. And if those citizens who are working to earn a paycheck every week can be required to pass a random drug test, why not those receiving public assistance?

Under the bill proposed by Carmichael , anyone on public aid — excluding, at least for now, those getting an unemployment check — could be ordered to undergo a random drug screening.

Testing positive the first time allows the recipient to voluntarily seek help. Testing positive a second time results in mandatory counseling through either the private sector or faith-based groups. If the individual receiving public assistance fails three random drug tests, the public aid for the recipient will end.

“This is not a mechanism to be punitive,” Carmichael told the Register-Herald in Beckley last week. “It is intended entirely to be compassionate and help people to get off the drugs and empower them to stay clean and to provide for their families in the proper manner.”

He makes a valid argument, particularly in light of the state’s rampant drug problem.

Those who receive public assistance, but aren’t abusing drugs, should have nothing to worry about, as they will test negative for drugs if called upon to complete a random screening. However, those who are abusing narcotics while receiving public assistance will be afforded an opportunity to seek help — before they lose their public assistance — under the proposed law.

It sounds logical to us. Giving the significant GOP gains in Charleston, we would expect and demand to see meaningful discussion and debate over this well-intended legislation when the Legislature reconvenes early next year.


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