The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 26, 2013

Sen. Hall backs GOP-led welfare drug test bill

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

CHARLESTON — Freshman Sen. Daniel Hall added his name to a Republican-led attempt to impose random drug testing to anyone getting public assistance in West Virginia, along with lawmakers, giving the years-old effort bipartisan support.

In fact, Hall picked up the ball in his last term in the House of Delegates, working then with GOP lawmakers to fine-tune the legislation which never got a hearing.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Hall, D-Wyoming, said Monday, “and for several reasons.

“You constantly hear the argument, ‘I have to get drug tested for my employment, why shouldn’t everyone else?’”

As an adjuster for Nationwide Insurance, since he drives a company vehicle, Hall said he underwent a drug screen before his hiring and two follow-ups once he joined the firm, passing all three.

“The goal here is not to punish people,” Hall said. “The goal is to get people clean.”

Led by two other freshmen, Sens. Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, and Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, the intent is to impose random tests on anyone getting a welfare check or unemployment benefits. An initial positive test would subject that person to rehabilitation or counseling, including faith-based initiatives, such as One Voice.

Back in his House tenure, Hall wanted to include any elected officials, from the governor on down, but ultimately the measure only included members of the Legislature.

Carmichael and Blair are seeking to shut off the pay of legislators after a second failed test — same as anyone on the dole.

Sponsors insist that no child would be left behind if their parents are denied benefits, since a provision allows for children to keep receiving state assistance. This would occur if a recipient’s second drug check — 30 days after the initial one — likewise showed evidence of illicit narcotics.

What’s more, Hall wants a beefed-up clause to make sure someone subject to a test doesn’t yield a “false positive,” perhaps triggered by a combination of legal medications or foods.

“We need to have due process,” the senator said. “Nothing is perfect.”

Hall says another reason he endorses the measure is that it’s “smart business” and is a principle that should be adopted in the private sector, at least in safety-sensitive jobs.

“We don’t need to be handing out money hand over fist to people who are just abusing the system, just riding it out,” he said.

“We need to be responsible with money. Americans are very generous. West Virginians are. We don’t expect people to just be taking advantage of it. And there are folks who are riding the system. There are people using drugs, being lazy, with no intention of ever getting a job. There are some and we all know who they are.”

Even if both father and mother test positive, the money intended for the welfare of their children will be set aside by a guardianship so that they aren’t denied food and other essentials, the senator said.

“We’re going out of our way to be fair to give people an opportunity to get clean,” Hall said.

Drugs are not the only problem in public assistance, however, the senator said.

“We’ve got just as many people, I would suspect, that abuse the system just out of pure fraud that are on disability or fraudulent workers’ compensation as there are people using drugs,” Hall said.

Hall is optimistic the bill will get its day in the Senate Judiciary Committee, where he and Carmichael serve.

“This is not a partisan bill,” he said.

“It’s just trying to be fiscally responsible and another tool, maybe, to get somebody clean. If they know that they can’t sit at the house and draw a check and use drugs, maybe for a small percentage, they’ll get clean and get back in the work force.”

At last count, about 23 states either have enacted such a law or are contemplating one.

“Most of the arguments against this don’t hold water,” Hall added.

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