Senate Democrats had an opportunity today to kill legislation that would require local social services agencies to screen welfare recipients for possible drug use.
And the chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus made a big deal about the fact that they didn’t take advantage of the chance.
Republicans had only 19 of their 20 members present in the chamber today, when the Senate was scheduled to act on Senate Bill 721, sponsored by Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson County. All 20 Democrats were present, enough to kill a bill that several members of the caucus have denounced.
Carrico rose during the Senate floor session and asked his colleagues to let the bill go by until Monday.
Then Sen. Donald McEachin, D-Henrico County, took the floor and delivered a not-so-subtle reminder that Republicans exploited the Jan. 21 absence of Democrat Henry Marsh of Richmond to ram through legislation that dramatically redraws the boundaries of state Senate districts.
“It’s interesting today that we are having this bill go by for the day, or at least there’s a motion for it to go by for the day, and let me tell you how tempted I am to ask my 20 members on this side of the aisle to vote against it going by for the day,” McEachin said. ” But I am restrained by our better angels, Mr. President.”
McEachin said he didn’t expect his restraint to be “well received by the other side.”
“But I hope that the people of Virginia, our bosses, the people that we report to, will understand that even though the other side is down one vote, and even though we have the ability to kill this bill today, that we will wait until the other side has all of its members present, and then we’ll move forward,” McEachin said.
The bill would require local social services departments to screen participants in the Virginia Initiative for Employment Not Welfare (VIEW) program and determine whether there is “probable cause” to believe the person is using drugs. Those suspected of using drugs could be required to take drug tests and lose benefits for 12 months if they refuse and test positive.
Even if Carrico’s bill passes, there may be no funding in the state budget to implement the mandate. The Senate Finance Committee attached a clause to the bill that prevents the measure from taking effect until funding is approved. A similar bill in the House of Delegates has been held up in budget-writing Appropriations Committee for the same reason.
– Michael Sluss