Two proposals that would affect welfare recipients, not allowing them to use their cards in bars and strips clubs, and another that would require drug tests for public benefit recipients if there is reasonable suspicion of drug use are in position to pass in the last days of the legislative session.
A committee in the Alabama House of Representatives approved the two proposals on Wednesday, placing them in position to be considered by the full House in the last four days of the legislative session. The House State Government Committee approved the measures with no discussion. The Senate has already passed the bills.
“I think people need to take responsibility,” said Rep. Kerry Rich, an Albertville Republican who sponsored legislation similar to the drug proposal. “Second, and most important, I don’t think it is the responsibility of the taxpayer to help fund someone’s drug use.”
Rich believes the proposal would lead some people to be more responsible.
“If they lose their benefits, taxpayers wouldn’t have to be funding their drug habit,” he said.
In one of the bills the committee approved on Wednesday, recipients of benefits distributed by the Department of Human Resources would be required to take a drug test if there is reasonable suspicion of drug use, which is a conviction on a drug offense in the last five years.
Rich said he did not like that, in the Senate version, a recipient would not lose benefits after failing the first test, although the recipient would have to take a second test. Sen. Trip Pittman, R-Daphne, is the sponsor of the Senate version.
Rich said the individual would lose their benefits after two failed tests. After two positive tests for drugs, the recipient would lose the benefits for a year. After a third positive test, the person would permanently lose their benefits, he said.
Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston, has worked with drug programs and supports the bill now that they give people a second chance.
“There are certain conditions that will cause addicts to relapse,” she said.
Rich said he would prefer people to lose their benefits if they fail one drug test, but he said he would support Pittman’s bill and try to get it up for a vote in the House. Rich, who is on the committee that decides which bills come to the House floor for a vote, said he would place that bill in there to be considered in the last days of the session.
Rich pointed out that because of federal rules the state could not test for food stamp benefits or Medicaid and said any legislation requiring a test to receive those would be struck down. He said the state can test for the cash benefits people receive through Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF.
In Pittman’s legislation, an adult who is declared ineligible to receive benefits could designate a third party to receive benefits for a minor child. The designee would also have to undergo testing. The legislation states that the child’s benefits would not be affected.
Some Democrats have voiced opposition to the bill, stating that Republicans are targeting and profiling poor Alabamians. Sen. Bobby Singleton, D-Greensboro, said the bill is discriminatory and targets poor mothers.
“If you’re going to do it, it needs to be testing across the board with those who receive public funds,” Singleton said. He referred to lawmakers and to those who receive contracts from the state.
Pittman also introduced a proposal, in response to criticism from Democrats, that would require a drug test for lawmakers if there is reasonable suspicion of drug use. But, after a committee approved the bill, there was never an effort to pass the bill along.
People with a felony conviction cannot serve in the Legislature so any conviction would have only applied to a misdemeanor drug conviction.
Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, sponsored the legislation that would stop the use of benefit cards at establishments that primarily sell alcohol and tobacco and said his bill is intended to limit abuse of public assistance. He said reports have indicated abuse of benefits nationally, including millions spent in casinos in Los Angeles County.
A recipient could not use the benefits at establishments that “primarily sells alcoholic beverages, a casino, a tattoo facility, a facility providing psychic services, or other establishment that provides adult-oriented entertainment in which performers disrobe or perform in an unclothed state.”
There would be penalties, including a loss of benefits, for those who violated the law and there would be a civil fine and other potential penalties for businesses that accepted those funds, which are distributed on electronic benefit transfer cards.
Any individual who violated the act, if passed, would be required to pay back the costs to the Department of Human Resources. With a first violation, the person would be “disqualified from receiving public assistance benefits by means of direct cash payment or an electronic benefits transfer access card for one month.” The person would be disqualified from receiving benefits for three months for a second violation. For a third violation, the individual would be disqualified permanently from receiving benefits. If a person is disqualified from receiving benefits, he or she would have the right to a hearing.
If a person or business violated the proposed act by accepting the funds for alcohol or tobacco, they would be fined $100 for the first violation, $500 for the second violation within five years and $1,000 for a third or subsequent violation within five years. And, for the third violation within five years, the attorney general could take action to suspend the business licenses and other permits of the person or business for one year.
– posted by Sebastian Kitchen