Drug testing for welfare recipients is very popular among social conservatives, despite the extraordinary costs states must assume to administer such programs and despite the fact that they do nothing to prevent welfare fraud. The fact that the bill died in the more conservative General Assembly, as opposed to the state Senate was a surprise, especially because the Senate version of the bill had narrowly made it out of the chamber with a 21-20 vote thanks to the tie-breaking Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling (R).
Conservatives might finally be getting that message as the reason the bill died in the Assembly was a concern for cost. The House Appropriations Committee voted to study the bill after cost estimates came in at $1.3 million out of the general fund in the first year and about $1 million annually after that to administer the program.
The bills, while slightly different in each chamber, would have required that local social services departments screen people receiving benefits to determine if there was a reason to believe that person was using illegal substances. If so, a formal drug test would be administered and a potential recipient must pass before benefits could be collected.
If there’s a silver lining to take from the Virginia legislative session so far it is that the Republican’s most outrageous attacks on the poor failed. That said, given how close the vote on this measure we can expect to see it come up again next year unless the voters of Virginia send a clear message that these kinds of attacks are unwarranted and unacceptable.
Photo from pedrosimoes7 via flickr.