The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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March 5, 2013

Green and Hall introduce drug test legislation

Unemployment and welfare recipients, lawmakers targeted

CHARLESTON — An effort to put West Virginia in a national trend of imposing random drug tests on welfare recipients and anyone getting an unemployment check arrived Monday in the state Senate, but it appears the bipartisan proposal is in for some long and difficult sledding.

Co-sponsored by the two Democrats in the 9th District — Mike Green and Daniel Hall — the bill was assigned to three committees, making it harder to reach the Senate floor for a vote.

Freshman Sen. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, who tried for several years as a delegate to force drug testing in the public sector, acknowledged that the triple-reference of any bill is a slowdown tactic.

“It’s obviously a mechanism to delay consideration of it by the full body,” Carmichael said.

“I’m disappointed that it’s triple referenced. However, let everybody have a full and open debate on it. Send it to as many committees as they want to, and let’s get it moving.”

First stop for SB417 is the Health and Human Resources, chaired by Sen. Ron Stollings, D-Boone, a physician, and from there it goes to Judiciary Chairman Corey Palumbo, D-Kanawha. The final stop, if it survives those two panels, is Finance Chairman Roman Prezioso, D-Marion.

Carmichael sought for several sessions while in the House of Delegates to enact some form of drug testing in the public sector, teaming with Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, now a freshman senator as well.

“Overwhelmingly, the public is in support of this,” Carmichael said. “The more I hear about this from constituents, the more I’m convinced it’s the right way to go.”

Not only are folks getting public assistance targeted, but the measure also would provide random drug screens for members of the Legislature.

Originally, when they were delegates, Blair and Carmichael sought a “three strikes and you’re out provision,” but this year’s model stops the check going directly to the recipient after failing to come clean on a second test. The first positive test directs a recipient to counseling.

Lawmakers who test positive for drugs face the forfeiture of their pay in what Carmichael has called an effort to “lead by example.”

“Typically, we see that a bill that is triple-referenced is meant to delay consideration,” Carmichael said.

“But I’m an optimist in this. I think that as the general public becomes more aware of how their tax dollars are being misused and with the drug prevalence throughout our communities, this needs to be addressed.”

Carmichael has said the measure takes steps to assure children in such families where drugs have been detected won’t be denied money they need for essentials.

“Hopefully, we’ll hear from our constituents and get this bill moving,” he added.

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com

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