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Last updated: Wed. Jan. 22, 2014 - 05:32 pm EDT

Panel backs bill for Indiana welfare drug testing


INDIANAPOLIS — A bill that would require screening for possible drug use among welfare recipients is moving forward in the Indiana Legislature after a House committee voted to advance the measure Wednesday.

The legislation, which the committee passed 8-4, would require Indiana residents receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families be screened through a questionnaire and be drug tested if they show a likelihood of addiction. Benefits would continue if they test positive as long as they enter treatment.

Implementing the bill would save the state about $521,000 over two years and cost $1.42 million in the same time, according to estimates from the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency. Similar bills failed in 2012 and 2013.

Welfare drug testing laws in other states already have been struck down as unconstitutional. Last December a federal judge ruled against a Florida law to drug test welfare recipients.

Bill sponsor Rep. Jud McMillin of Brookville tweaked the Indiana bill to avoid a similar battle. He said adding the screening questionnaire is enough to give probable cause for a drug test.

The test asks individuals to agree or disagree with 67 statements including, "I usually 'go along' and do what others are doing" and "I think I would like moving to an area I've never been before."

Rep. John Bartlett of Indianapolis, who voted against the bill, said he chose not to apply for welfare benefits when he was unemployed for more than a year in the 1970s because the questions he was asked made him "feel like trash."

But McMillin said the testing is needed accountability that residents have long called for and could provide help to addicts.

"Who we're singling out are people who are using drugs," McMillin said during the meeting. "Those folks should be singled out, not for negative purposes, but to try and get them help."

An amendment also removed a mandate for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to show photo identification.

Committee chairwoman Rebecca Kubacki of Syracuse said photo identification is impractical because of the cost and inevitable battle with the federal government.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture last year denied a request to require electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, card users in Maine to show identification, and administrators from SNAP criticized Massachusetts for a similar effort.

McMillin said he might try to reinsert the requirement later, if only to make a point to the federal government.

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