Drug testing for public assistance recipients gets a hearing

By Elizabeth Donatelli - bio | email

FRANKFORT, KY (WAVE) - One of the most talked about and controversial bills of the session received a hearing. House Bill 208 would require drug and substance screening for any adult receiving public assistance.

Ruth Chamblin believes it could have changed the life of her niece Melissa Goodwin. She had been on public assistance for 8 years, when her youngest child died of head trauma. She lost custody of the other two and was incarcerated after pleading guilty to criminal abuse in her baby's death.

"If she had been drug tested, number one--she would of had to be more careful about her lifestyle," said Chamblin. "Number two--those babies would not have been living in a hose hold where there was illegal, mind controlling substance abuse."

Chamblin sat with Rep. Lonnie Napier the bill's sponsor when testifying. HB208 would require random drug testing for people on public assistance.

"If we don't get them off of drugs, they will never have a job," said Napier.

Recipients would get multiple re-tests before losing funding, and their children would still get assistance. Some legislators questioned if the state has the resources and cost.

"There is no money for rehab or for substance abuse--there's none," said Rep. Mary Lou Marzian (D) of Campbell County.

Marzian said she would support new taxes to implement these programs, the republican sponsor agreed, but said he didn't think it was necessary.

"It would probably cost $1.5 million I believe, but I say that my bill, or our bill that we will vote for eventually, we'll save millions and millions and millions of dollars," said Napier.

Still Health & Welfare Committee Chair Tom Burch wasn't buying it.

"That's the reason this is up for just a hearing today rather than a vote is because it would be fraud on the people of Kentucky to put something out there like that there to say we can take care of them which we cannot do," said Burch.

Anne Joseph, a children's advocate, said after the hearing that part of the bill is unconstitutional because federal law does not allow drug testing for food stamps and medicaid applicants.

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