The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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February 10, 2011

Welfare drug tests back in House

CHARLESTON — Requiring welfare recipients to take random drug tests is an idea that has surfaced anew in the House of Delegates.

And this time, sponsors want to subject members of the Legislature to the same checks.

A year ago, former Delegate Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, tried to muster enough support to test anyone on public relief, but his effort was shot down decisively.

Delegate Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, calls it “a very common sense bill,” one that is intended to break addictions by forcing recipients to either seek help or lose their checks.

“If you were going to work, attempting to go to work and work in that career, you would have to be drug tested,” he said of the private sector.

Why then, he asked, shouldn’t the same rule apply to someone receiving taxpayers’ money for not working?

“Certainly, we want all these people to go back to work,” Carmichael said after his bill was introduced Wednesday.

“This is an effort to bring compassion to this as well. We want to interdict early and have early intervention in those circumstances in which people are on drugs and public assistance.”

By insisting that recipients be drug-free to maintain public assistance, Carmichael said he and other delegates sponsoring the bill are acting in a positive fashion.

“This gives us an opportunity to reach out to them to put them in counseling, not in particularly a punitive manner,” he said.

However, the bill contains a “three strikes and you’re out” provision. If an individuals fails to come clean by the third test, the recipient is automatically shut off from funds.

Carmichael said the measure would apply to anyone on the dole.

“We want to do it with all people to have the opportunity to get them into counseling to break this addiction,” he said.

In last year’s bill, when Blair was a member, someone challenged him to include legislators in the drug testing.

Carmichael’s bill would accomplish that.

“We want to be an example,” he said.

“We want to lead by example. To the extent that someone says we’re targeting a lower socio-economic demographic with this bill, that’s absolutely not true.”

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