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House approves welfare drug-testing

By Chelyen Davis

The Free Lance-Star

RICHMOND—The state Senate has passed a bill that would require drug screenings for welfare recipients.

But it comes with a cost of about $1 million per year, which already doomed similar measures in the House of Delegates.

The vote on the bill was a 20–20 tie, with Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling breaking the tie in favor of passing the bill.

Sen. Steve Martin, R–Chesterfield, said the bill is intended to ensure that children whose parents receive welfare money from the state end up getting that money.

“If there are children who are being harmed in their households, both because of the drug use and because the money is not getting through, then we should be concerned about that,” Martin said.

Opponents say the bill stigmatizes welfare recipients.

“It feeds a misimpression of a group of people and singles them out, and there is underlying the bill an assumption that those who qualify for public assistance have a higher incidence of drug use than the general population,” said Del. Mark Herring, D–Loudoun.

Sen. Mamie Locke, D–Hampton, said there’s no evidence that welfare recipients have a higher incidence of drug use than any other group receiving government money.

“This measure simply perpetuates a negative stereotype,” she said. “Do we subject ourselves to drug testing?”

Sen. Dick Saslaw, D–Fairfax, said similar legislation was struck down by Florida courts, after a costly legal battle, and that passage of the bill would just make Virginia the butt of jokes on late-night TV shows.

“I hope that we have not set ourselves up to be ridiculed by Jon Stewart, or Colbert or Leno  or any of that crap,” Saslaw said.

Martin said opponents were misconstruing the intentions of the bill.

“I do not anticipate there’s any greater drug use in this population than there is any other,” he said.

The bill will now go to the House, where earlier this session the Appropriations Committee carried a House version over to 2013 to give time to study the costs.

Last week, a poll by Quinnipiac University found that 76 percent of those polled support drug testing in order to receive public assistance.

Chelyen Davis:  804/343-2245