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Welfare drug testing could get traction this year

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CHARLESTON, WV -

It often takes a few tries for a bill to become a law in West Virginia, and in the issue of drug testing for government assistance, its time may have come.

House Bill 2527 was introduced Feb. 19 with 11 Republican sponsors.

The issue has been raised in the House of Delegates several times, but it was always seen as a part of the Republican agenda that never got much traction.

In fact, Senate Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha, says he can't remember the bill ever being entertained in the Senate.

"I don't think it's made it out of either chamber," Palumbo said. "This year, there may be a little more momentum for it.

"I know several states have now passed similar legislation, so I think it will probably get a little closer inspection this year."

The measure would create a drug testing program for applicants and recipients of temporary assistance for needy families, or TANF. Under the proposal, if a person fails the first drug test, he or she will be required to pass a second drug test in the next 30 to 60 days to maintain eligibility for the benefits.

If a person fails the second drug test, as the bill is drafted, that person would become ineligible for benefits for a period of two years, and another drug test would be mandatory as part of the reapplication for benefits.

House Speaker Rick Thompson said he supports legislation that keeps drug users from receiving public assistance, but he wants to be sure it's done properly.

"We must ensure that we protect the children whose families are affected, that participants are tested in a legal manner and that the Legislature adequately funds our state substance abuse treatment centers so people who test positive for drugs can receive proper treatment," Thompson said in a prepared statement.

The bill is scheduled to be debated in the House Judiciary Committee as well as the House Finance Committee. If it passes both committees, it would then be up to the full House of Delegates for a vote, and then the bill would be sent to the Senate for the same process.

And the Senate may have gained a few supporters for the idea.

"I know that it's been a big thing that Sen. (Craig) Blair has pushed for in the House, and now that he's in the Senate, I suspect we'll see a bill over here this year as well," Palumbo said.