Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

March 9, 2013

Public assistance drug testing bill stationary

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

CHARLESTON — A renewed effort to expose legislators and West Virginians collecting public assistance to random drug screens is in neutral and may never hit “drive” in the Senate.

First stop for the bipartisan bill is the Health and Human Resources Committee, and its chairman, Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, wasn’t sure Friday if he would put the matter on his agenda.

The bill also was referred to the judiciary and finance committees.

Except in rare cases, a triple reference is considered a death sentence for legislative proposals.

“What we’re doing right now is looking at what’s going on down in Florida,” Stollings said.

“There are some constitutional issues.”

In litigation pressed by the American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of a Navy veteran who lost benefits after refusing to undergo a drug test, the federal tribunal struck down Florida’s law.

The court held that the Florida statute violated the 4th Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.

With the session nearing the midway point next week, Stollings said ample time remains to take up the bill, if the leadership decides to deal with it.

“It’s something we’ll talk about in the Democratic caucus,” he said.

By encompassing legislators, and residents getting either a welfare or unemployment check, Stollings called the proposal “a big, sweeping bill,” and suggested another snag could be the cost of administering drug tests.

“Drug testing costs a fair amount of money,” he said.

“And drug counselling, which is called for in there, also costs a lot of money. I’m not sure we have the infrastructure in place for that. So it all depends on what the leadership wants to do and what we find out in Florida.”

Mandatory tests for all on the dole were required under the Florida law, but the one proposed in West Virginia stipulates only random checks.

The measure would shut off benefits after a second consecutive positive test, but children of recipients would continue to get money for food and other essentials.

Under the legislation, any member of the Legislature testing positive for illicit drugs would forfeit pay.

A leading sponsor, freshman Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, said he felt encouraged this year after trying numerous times as a delegate to authorize the drug tests, since Speaker Rick Thompson, D-Wayne, had suggested he would support the concept.

Carmichael said money intended to support families often is misused by a parent on drugs, so removing them as recipients wouldn’t hurt children, anyway.

“We want to help direct these people to counselling, either to faith-based counselling, or some other type of counselling, to break this addiction,” he said earlier.