An Eastern Panhandle lawmaker is attempting to craft a bill for the 2009 legislative session that would require anyone on welfare, food stamps or unemployment benefits to undergo random drug testing.
Under the tentative plan in mind by Delegate Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, it would be two strikes and you’re out.
“It’s pretty simple,” Blair said Monday, when asked why he is pursuing such legislation in West Virginia.
“If you go out here and want a good job, most of the time, we have to sign off and say, ‘Hey, it’s OK, I submit to random drug testing on the job. That’s part of the deal you make whenever you get a job. It’s sort of crazy, in my opinion, and I think in the general public’s opinion, when they’re on the dole with the state, we’re subsidizing their income one way or another, that they don’t have to submit to the same thing.”
Blair wants to compel anyone collecting food stamps, welfare checks or jobless benefits to submit to random testing. If the first test proves positive, under his proposal, a second one would be mandatory in two months, allowing the recipient that much time to clean up his act, or face a cutoff of government relief.
“It’s just a common sense approach to this,” he said.
“There have been issues in the past. For instance, in the food stamp program, people would take a $10 stamp, buy a pack of gum, get the rest in cash and buy beer with it.”
That no longer is possible, he acknowledged, but there exists the potential to spend taxpayer dollars to satisfy a drug habit.
“It’s just a natural deterrent, in my opinion, that if you want that assistance program, you’ve got to show that you’re clean,” the legislator said.
“You get two marks, and you get off. You can go into a program that can help you get off the drug and then you test again. So, you would get a two-month grace period from the time that you fail to the time you get cut off financially. But you’ve got to be able to pass in those two months.”
Blair said he must overcome one “obstacle,” a ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, that found this approach a constitutional violation.
“I’m still in the middle of how to get this drafted so I can circumvent this,” he said. “Everybody I’ve talked to loves this idea.”
Not everyone who sent him an e-mail is on board, however.
One person who contacted him said only 2 percent of people on public assistance have a drug problem, but Blair feels the number is far too low, given the substance abuse that is prevalent in the general society.
“I don’t believe the 2 percent number for a minute,” he said.
“You and I know there are more people hooked on drugs in the general population. I’m trying to find a way to get around this court ruling. If I feel I can’t get around it, then it’s just wasting the Legislature’s time.”