Policy: Entitlements

South Dakota panel kills bill to drug test people on welfare

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Associated Press,Entitlements,Food Stamps,Welfare,South Dakota

PIERRE, S.D. — A South Dakota Senate committee killed a bill on Wednesday that would have established drug testing of welfare recipients. The Health and Human Services Committee voted 5-2 to defeat the measure.

Similar bills have been rejected by South Dakota lawmakers in recent years. The bill's main sponsor, Sen. Mark Kirkeby, R-Rapid City, was the only person who testified in favor of the measure, arguing it would discourage illegal drug use and promote stable families.

"I ask committee members to have the courage, and it is courage, to support our citizens in need, to discourage illegal drug use," Kirkeby said.

He said people were lobbying against the bill before he had even released it.

Opponents said there are already systems in place to protect children in households with drug abuse and said the measure would discriminate against low-income people.

"This bill is really bad policy. It's based on the perception that there's a large number of welfare recipients who use illegal drugs," said Lynne Valenti, Deputy Secretary of the South Dakota Department of Social Services. She said there is no data to demonstrate that people on welfare use drugs more than the rest of the population.

The bill would have required the Department of Social Services to develop a drug screening and testing program for people getting financial assistance benefits. It did not include a cost estimate or funding source.

The federal government does not permit drug testing of people on Medicaid or the Supplemental Food Assistance Program, often referred to as food stamps. People who receive funding from South Dakota's welfare program, called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, would have been subject to the testing.

Other states have passed laws to allow drug screening or testing of people receiving public benefits. Florida's law was challenged in court and found unconstitutional.

South Dakota state Sen. Phil Jensen, R-Rapid City, who voted for the bill, asked opponents, "why can't we come up with a simple drug testing program that provides some accountability?"

Deb Bowman, senior adviser to Gov. Dennis Daugaard, told Jensen there was no reason to do the drug testing.

"None of us condone illegal drug use, but I don't think this is the way we go at it," Bowman said.

Terry Dosch, executive director of South Dakota Council of Substance Abuse Directors, asked why not drug test recipients of other publically-funded programs, including student loans and agriculture subsidies.

Sen. Bruce Rampelberg, R-Rapid City, supported the concept behind the bill but voted against it because the cost of the program was not included.

"There's no doubt in my mind that this is going to require funding," Rampelberg said.

"For a low return on investment," he added, "that's a lot of money and effort to go through."

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