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CHARLESTON — Citing compassion for other human beings, constitutional concerns and no proven financial benefits from drug-testing welfare recipients, all speakers at a public hearing Thursday afternoon in the House of Delegates were against the bill that would make such testing law.

HB2021 would require testing Temporary Assistance to Needy Families recipients if “reasonable suspicion” exists. Examples of reasonable suspicion include a previous drug conviction and evidence of drug paraphernalia in the home.

Sam Hickman, executive director of the West Virginia Association of Social Workers, said the bottom line is “how you look at the world.”

Hickman said the resources that go into drug-testing TANF recipients could just as well be used for substance-abuse treatment programs.

“Drug-testing increases administrative costs with little or no return on investment,” Hickman said. “Most recipients use resources as intended.”

Hickman said the bill fails recipients who do test positive for illegal drugs by requiring substance-abuse treatment programs when few are available in the state’s rural areas.

The policy director for the ACLU said the bill as written is unconstitutional because it violates the Fourth Amendment’s provision against illegal search and seizure, which requires probable cause, a different standard than reasonable suspicion, and a search warrant.  “The premise is that poor people are more likely to be drug users than other members of society,” said Cassie Burdywell. “That perpetuates a demeaning, false stereotype.”

Sean O’Leary, policy analyst for the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy, said the pilot project for three counties — which have not been determined — is estimated to cost $2 million.

Similar laws in other states have “overwhelmingly failed to find” drug users among welfare recipients, O’Leary said.

An attorney who represented the poor for 30 years said in all those years only one person ever came into his office who was impaired by substance abuse.

“The TANF benefit for a family of three is $340 a month,” said David McMahon. “The federal poverty level is $1,647. A person on welfare can’t afford drugs.”

Gary Zuckett, executive director of West Virginia Citizens Action, said his organization opposes the bill for a number of reasons, among them the cost to run the program.

“We see a very expensive program that has gotten few positive results,” Zuckett said, calling drug-testing of TANF recipients “taxpayer money flushed down the toilet.”

Zuckett said the money would be better used for substance-abuse treatment programs.

The House Committee on Health and Human Resources discussed the bill at length Thursday, but adjourned for an evening floor session.

During the committee meeting, lawmakers questioned whether this law is similar to laws in Florida and Michigan which have been deemed unconstitutional.

Those states required either testing of all TANF recipients or random testing, according to the committee’s counsel.

The bill’s sponsor, Patrick Lane, R-Kanawha, said the bill has no dual intent to save money.

“The intent is to ensure those persons receiving benefits are clean, that they are not drug users,” Lane said.

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