Batesville Herald Tribune, Batesville, Indiana

State News

August 10, 2012

Should TANF recipients be drug tested?

-- — The co-author of a failed bill that would have cut off cash assistance to welfare recipients who fail drug tests is working to revive the legislation in the next session.

Rep. Jud McMillin, a Brookville Republican, said he wants to re-introduce legislation that would require the state's Family and Social Services Agency to develop a drug-screening program for adults receiving cash payments through a program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

The bill, which passed the House but was blocked in the Senate in the last session, was opposed by FSSA officials who questioned whether it was cost-effective or constitutional.

But McMillin, an attorney, believes there may be growing support for the proposal, and he's convinced that a bill can be drafted in a way that will stand up to a court challenge.

"The legislation is not punitive," McMillin said. "We're not looking to harm anybody who fails a drug test. This is about creating incentives for people to make good decisions."

The legislation wouldn't automatically cut off cash-assistance to TANF recipients who failed the drug test, but it would compel them to seek treatment to continue on the program.

McMillin and other supporters of the bill came under fire during the last session for proposing legislation tying drug-testing to welfare assistance. At one point during the session, opponents of the bill attached an amendment that would have required drug-testing for legislators.

But the bill earned some bipartisan support while it was alive. One of the earlier "yes" votes on the bill came from Rep. Scott Pelath, a Democrat from Michigan City. Pelath said his experience working for a mental health center influenced his vote. He said drug addicts have difficulty making good decisions. "To get people into treatment, some coercion may be needed," he said at the time.

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