Topeka Supporters of a bill that would require random drug testing of those receiving public assistance called it tough love.
But opponents said the proposal amounted to a war on the poor.
The Kansas House on Tuesday gave first-round approval to legislation that aims to administer drug tests to several thousand people each year who receive assistance from the state.
House Bill 2275 was debated for about two hours, eliciting dramatic comments from both sides.
“This is crazy and it’s mean,” said state Rep. Marti Crow, D-Leavenworth. Crow said she supports testing people for drugs if they are suspected of drug use, “but testing someone because they’re poor, where does that make sense?”
Other opponents said that while they didn’t want taxpayer-funded benefits going to drug users, the effect of cutting off assistance would increase crime, produce more troubled homes and fill up the prison system.
The bill has a hefty fiscal note — $800,000 per year, by one estimate — and wouldn’t take effect unless state funding is available.
But state Rep. Kasha Kelley, R-Arkansas City, said her bill was meant to get treatment to those found to be using drugs. That would protect taxpayer dollars and children that may be in the home of drug users, she said.
“There’s a lot of good here,” Kelley said.
Her bill initially said if a person receiving welfare benefits tested positive for drugs, then they would receive treatment; if they tested positive twice, then benefits would be suspended.
But state Rep. Charles Roth, R-Salina, amended the bill to allow two rounds of treatment, and then suspension of benefits if the person failed a drug test three times.
An amendment to exempt from drug testing people in the grandparents as caregivers program produced heated debate.
Several Republicans said grandparents shouldn’t be exempt from drug testing.
But state Rep. Paul Davis, D-Lawrence, asked incredulously, “You want Grandma and Grandpa to come down to a state office building and pee in a cup so that they can take care of their grandchildren?”
The amendment passed.