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Indiana lawmakers kill drug screening for welfare

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The fate of a divisive proposal to drug test welfare recipients died in the final minutes of the Indiana legislative session Thursday in a rare failed floor vote.

The bill powered through the Republican-dominated House but faced roadblocks with both parties in the Senate, where leaders criticized the measure as needlessly expensive and discriminatory against the poor.

In the final votes the House passed the measure 81-17, but the Senate defeated the bill 24-24 after senators from both sides of the aisle criticized the bill.

"We peeled the onion last night up here at the microphone," Senate President Pro Tem David Long said. "In the end, this wasn't thought through as well as it could have been."

The bill was the second to last to come before the Senate late Thursday night. Only five of the hundreds of bills tackled this session were voted down in the final round of voting, and the usual low rumble in the Senate chamber quieted until barely a sound was heard when the vote count was tallied.

Although the House and Senate successfully compromised on big-ticket items such as a business tax package and the potential release of $400 million to spruce up Indiana roads, disagreements between the chambers ultimately led to the death of the drug testing proposal.

Bill author Rep. Jud McMillin this week undid Senate changes that would have limited testing to only Temporary Assistance for Needy Families applicants with prior drug convictions. The original bill requires all beneficiaries to be screened for likelihood of addiction and then potentially be tested.

Whether drug testing certain TANF recipients would pass constitutional muster is unclear. A similar Florida measure was ruled unconstitutional last year, and American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana Legal Director Kenneth Falk said the Indiana bill likely would have met a similar end.

Senators also earlier nixed a measure to restrict what can be bought with government food assistance to only items deemed "nutritional" by the state.

Senate Democrats called the measure a "war on the poor," while Republicans spoke against the high price tag to catch an estimated 5 percent or less of TANF recipients abusing drugs. Earlier estimates from the Legislative Services Agency show the policy could save about $520,000 but cost up to $1.83 million to implement over two years.

Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville, said the price tag could have been closer to $2.5 million.

"It was a much different bill," said Becker, who voted for the earlier Senate-approved version of the proposal, "a much less expensive bill."

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  • Drug testing in other states
    It has generally ended up either in court, wasting tax dollars to defend it, or when it was actually conducted, turned out to cost quite a bit to catch a very small number of violators. I would rather that we fund some kind of screening/testing that focuses on diverting people into treatment (which the state should also be willing to fund, if they are genuinely that concerned). Let's realize that drug addiction is a disease that leads to crime, and the best way to reduce it focuses on harm prevention and disease treatment, not denying services to Hoosiers that need them most.
  • Hmmm
    After witnessing the antics and final results of this last legislative session, I propose that the members of our august legislature undergo random drug screening. Particularly for hallucinogens.
  • Fuzzy Math System
    72% (105) voted in favor, but just 24 killed the bill.
  • it is illegal to use drugs
    how a senator can feel that this discriminates against the poor is beyond comprehension. If this discriminates against anyone, it is against drug users. taxpayers should be outraged at this! it is not unreasonable that those being given a hand out are required to be drug free. But maybe some senators think that is okay. hopefully, their opponents in the next election shed light on this vote.
  • Wrong. Oh so wrong.
    Many of the people that produce the tax dollars it takes to pay the people receiving free benefits must pass a drug screen. What is wrong with the Senate? Thankfully these good hard working folks pass the test, so they can work and provide the spoils of their labor on the non-working, non-drug test taking, but very Democratic voting recipients. I hope the recipients are thankful for the drug screen passing people too.
  • Unfair to the employed
    It ticks me off that I face drug screening to keep my job but someone who can get gov't assistance from my tax dollars doesn't have to face the same to get their money. Totally unfair to taxpayers and I'll remember next election.

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