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House OKs drug-testing for assistance recipients

Published March 1, 2012 8:53 pm

HB155 • Measure would set requirement for people getting cash assistance from state.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

People receiving government cash assistance could have to submit to drug testing in order to receive benefits, according to the sponsor of a bill that passed through the House Thursday.

The measure, HB155, passed 62-10, and now goes to the Senate.

It's sponsor, Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, said the measure addresses the safety net for people who fall on hard times but ensures those who apply for the money also are attempting to get a job and work — which means they can't be doing drugs.

"I want to be clear … we are not going to prevent folks from getting benefits unless they refuse to go into treatment or they refuse to execute the treatment to get clean," he said.

The measure requires recipients of Utah's Family Employment Program to fill out a questionnaire and, if suspicions arise that applicants are using drugs, they take a drug test. If drug tests come up positive, they are then required to undergo treatment.

Refusal to fill out the 30-minute questionnaire or take the drug test would result in no cash benefits being distributed to the applicant, who then would be ineligible for 90 days. A second refusal would impose a one-year wait for benefit eligibility.

Rep. Mark Wheatley, D-Murray, was concerned that the bill was based on the assumption that poor people were using drugs — a charge Wilson rebutted by saying only about 10 percent of those applying for the benefits are drug abusers.

Wilson said it was meant as a way for earlier detection of people who might be on a pathway to drug abuse.

"The drug use is an obstacle for getting off drugs and getting of welfare," Wilson said.

Minority Leader David Litvack, D-Salt Lake City, opposed the measure and said the assessment of care needed wasn't addressed in the measure.

He also said he thought the bill would prove more expensive than the $169,100 fiscal note indicated.

"I think pragmatically, this will be challenging," Litvack said.

dmontero@sltrib.com

Twitter: @davemontero