JEFFERSON CITY - A bill to require drug screening for welfare applicants is getting fast-track treatment in Missouri's legislature.
The bill, which would require screening all Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and then test those whom the Missouri Social Services Department reasonably suspects of drug use, is among one of the first to be heard, and a modified version was voted out of committee Wednesday.
Rep. Ellen Brandom, R-Sikeston, the sponsor of the bill, said taxpayers don't want to subsidize drug use.
"Why are you focusing on poor people?" asked former Sen. Patrick Dougherty, D-St. Louis City, representing Catholic Charities, which opposed the originally filed bill. He said if the goal was to prevent taxpayers from subsidizing drug use, everyone, or at least a larger segment of the population, should be screened.
There were about 38,000 adult recepients as of September, Brandom said.
With this session's budget constraints, Rep. Casey Guernsey, R-Bethany, said it's not possible to expand the screening to a larger population or provide treatment to all who may be referred.
"Dealing with reality, I think it would just be better to kick them off," Guernsey said.
The bill as originally written required referrals to drug treatment programs; it did not required actual treatment. An applicant who tested positive would ineligible for benefits for a year.
"All you're doing is punitive," Rep. James Morris, D-St. Louis City, said. "It will do nothing in the long run to help families or our state."
Children and other members of the household would still be eligible, and the money would have to go through a third party.
"Some people need an incentive to give something up," Brandom said. "(The status quo) is enabling to some extent."
The chair of the committee and a co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, who is running for a state Senate seat, said he didn't think the bill was moved too quickly despite opponents saying the hearing scheduling was rushed.
The House Rules Committee will decide when the bill will be heard before the full House.