On a party line vote, the Virginia Senate has killed legislation that would require local social services agencies to screen welfare recipients for possible drug use and subject some to drug tests.
The bill died on a 20-19 vote today, with all of the Senate’s Democrats opposing it. Republican Sen. Harry Blevins, R-Cheasapeake, was away from his desk when the vote occurred.
This is the second year in a row that Republican lawmakers have pushed for such legislation, which Democrats have blasted as an effort to exploit the poor for political purposes. A similar House-sponsored bill has stalled in the budget-writing Appropriations Committee.
Senate Bill 721, sponsored by Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Grayson County, would have require local social services departments to screen each participant 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.
Democrats argued that the bill was unconstitutional and singles out the poor. Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, said welfare recipients are no more likely to use drugs that the general population. She questioned why Carrico’s bill wouldn’t also apply to “legislators or bailed out CEO’s any other recipient of public aid.”
Carrico said his bill was different that a Florida drug testing scheme that was found to be unconstitutional because his proposal would not automatically subject welfare recipients to drug testing.
“This system has a mechanism to suspect thatthere was some type of use of drugs before the test takes place,” Carrico said.
The requirement would cost the state more than $462,000 in its first year, according to fiscal impact analysis of Carrico’s bill.