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Wyoming House Passes Welfare Drug-Testing Bill

The state of Wyoming is one step closer to passing a bill that would require some welfare recipients to undergo drug testing.

It passed the full House on its third reading Monday.

Nearly two dozen states are currently considering similar legislation.

Should people in need have to trade a clean drug test for welfare benefits?

It’s a question that has sparked passionate debate in the Wyoming House of Representatives this week.

“We’re just trying to help eliminate that lifestyle of dependency on both drugs and the government system,” said Rep. David Miller, R-Riverton.

Miller is backing a bill that would require individuals to pay for and take a drug test when they apply for the state’s “POWER” program.

According to the Department of Family Services, “POWER” currently distributes an average of $500 per month to 338 people who are working or looking for work.

“I don’t think it’s really excessive to ask a person to do this,” said Miller.

But others disagree, like Jackson representatives Keith Gingery and Ruth Ann Petroff. Both pointed to Florida, where just last fall a judge ruled a similar law was unconstitutional based on the Fourth Amendment.

“I definitely agree this qualifies as unreasonable search and seizure,” said Petroff, R-Jackson.

“I just think the Fourth Amendment applies to everyone, including poor people,” said Gingery, R-Jackson.

Miller said his bill may very well be unconstitutional, but he supports adjustments to solve that. For example, he said, drug testing only if those in charge of enrollment suspect any abuse.

As it stands, children can still get their pro-rated benefits if a parent fails. But Miller hopes that would send a message to users.

“Don’t you think someone needs to call them on that?” he said. “Especially if they do have children?”

The issue has come up in Idaho, too. In 2010, Republican lawmakers requested a study on the cost effectiveness of drug testing.

The results came back in 2011, with the Department of Health and Welfare concluding the cost would exceed any savings, and not apply to big programs like Medicaid and food stamps.

The Gem state does require adults applying for temporary cash assistance for families to complete a screening evaluation, but not a full test.

The Wyoming bill cleared the House on Monday by a vote of 37-23. It now moves onto the Senate.

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