Posted: May 30, 2012 5:16 PM by AP
BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Louisiana won't require a random sample of welfare recipients to submit to drug tests, after a Senate committee refused Wednesday to support the idea, killing a bill that has been repeatedly proposed in the Legislature.
The legislation by Republican Rep. Sherman Mack, of Livingston, has been criticized as being the equivalent of class warfare and an unfair assumption that poor mothers were more likely to be drug users.
A Senate judiciary panel voted 3-1 against the bill, which had the backing of the House.
A revamped version of the bill would have started a pilot program, requiring 500 adults receiving aid through the Family Independence Temporary Assistance Program to submit to random drug tests.
"The intent is to help people, on several different levels. To help people with problems, to help the incarceration rate, to help deter the misuse of funds," Mack said.
Under the proposal, welfare recipients who failed their first drug test would then be required to participate in an education and rehabilitation program within 90 days. If they wanted to continue receiving their benefits, they would have to pass their next drug test.
The Department of Children and Family Services already screens welfare applicants before they are eligible for the federally-funded aid.
Rob Tasman, associate director of the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops, said there was no proof showing that the screening process wasn't already an effective deterrent. Tasman also questioned the constitutionality of the bill, saying welfare recipients shouldn't be asked to sign over their right to suspicion-less searches to receive the federal aid.
"Quite honestly and to put it bluntly, I'm not sure that consent form is worth the paper it's drafted on," Tasman said of the waiver applicants would be required to sign. "I don't know how an individual can consent to giving up their constitutional rights as granted to them by the federal government in order to simply apply for benefits."
There are nearly 5,900 welfare recipients in Louisiana, receiving an average of $192 per month.
Mack has said each drug test costs almost $8 and his proposal would require the state to pay for the first test. If a recipient tested positive they would then be responsible for paying for any subsequent tests in order to continue receiving their cash assistance.
Though the idea has failed repeatedly in the Louisiana Legislature, Mack said he will try to revive the bill next year.