RICHMOND, VA — A bill backed by Republicans that would have required drug screening and testing of welfare recipients died Monday in the Virginia Senate. The measure failed by one vote in the evenly divided Senate when one Republican didn’t vote.
The measure, Senate Bill 271, introduced by Sen. Charles Carrico (R-Grayson), would have required the state’s welfare-to-work program to screen participants “to determine if probable cause exists to believe the participant is using illegal substances” and, if such a determination is made, “a formal substance abuse assessment of the participant, which may include drug testing.”
Those who tested positive would have to enter a drug treatment program or lose benefits for a year. Those who refused to be tested would also lose benefits for a year.
Last year, a similar measure ended up with a tied vote in the Senate, allowing Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling to cast a tie-breaking vote and advance the bill to the House. It was then killed in the House.
Similar legislation is afoot in a number of other states. Some states, like Virginia, have attempted to overcome constitutional problems with suspicionless drug testing by providing for an initial screening to come up with probable cause, but even that fix hasn’t managed to overcome political problems in most states.
Opponents of such legislation argue that such programs cost more money than they save, that they are an attack on poor people, and that there is no evidence of widespread drug use among public benefits recipients.
“Why are poor people singled out for testing,” asked Sen. Marnie Locke (D-Hampton) before voting against the bill. “Why not legislators or bailed-out CEOs?”