2011 General Assembly

Proposal to drug-test recipients of public assistance debated

But House panel chairman scratches vote on bill

bmusgrave@herald-leader.comFebruary 18, 2011 

FRANKFORT — Ruth Chamblin says her 12-month-old great-niece would still be alive if Kentucky tested those who receive public assistance for drugs.

Chamblin, a Maysville native, told the House Health and Welfare Committee Thursday that her great-niece was allegedly beaten by her niece's former boyfriend, who was using drugs. The mother did not take the child to the hospital for four days after the alleged attack because she did not want the police to investigate, Chamblin said. (The boyfriend was later acquitted of charges, but the girl's mother pleaded guilty to manslaughter.)

The family was on public assistance at the time of her great-niece's death, Chamblin said.

She spoke on behalf of a controversial bill that would require random drug testing of those who receive Medicaid, a health care program for the poor and disabled, and other forms of public assistance, including food stamps.

The House Health and Welfare Committee did not vote on House Bill 208 despite motions to do so on Thursday. Committee Chairman Tom Burch, D-Louisville, said the bill would not be voted on because there was no money to pay for drug testing or the rehabilitation of addicts.

If the bill were approved, "it would be a fraud on the people of Kentucky," Burch said. "We need to have a treatment facility out there for them."

Republican Rep. Lonnie Napier of Lancaster, the sponsor of House Bill 208, said the cabinet estimates that it could cost about $1.5 million a year to implement the random drug testing. But Napier said getting people to stop using drugs would probably result in those people getting jobs and getting off the welfare rolls.

"It will save millions and millions of dollars," Napier said.

Napier said people who test positive for drugs would be given 60 days to go to rehabilitation or seek treatment. During that period, their public assistance would not be terminated. Only after repeated positive drug tests would public assistance be terminated, Napier said.

Napier said there are widespread reports that people are selling food stamps — or food bought with food stamps — to buy drugs.

"The children are not getting the food that they're supposed to be getting," Napier said.

Several legislators spoke in favor of the bill, saying that many people — including high school athletes and church bus drivers — are subject to random drug tests. People on public assistance should have to take such tests, said Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville.

But Rep. Mary Lou Marzian, D-Louisville, said many people want to stop drug abuse and advocate for more testing and treatment.

"Nobody wants to pay for it," Marzian said.

Napier said other states are considering similar measures. Missouri passed a similar proposal just last week, he said.

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