Gov. signs Kansas drug test law for welfare recipients

Gov. Sam Brownback said Tuesday that a new law requiring applicants for a welfare program to submit to drug testing was a step toward ending a scourge on the state and break the cycle of poverty.

The Republican governor signed the bill during Statehouse ceremony, saying that the state had an obligation to help residents break their addictions and improve their lives through treatment and jobs training.

"Drug addiction is a scourge in Kansas. This is a horrific thing that hits so many people," Brownback said. "What this effort is about is an attempt to get ahead of it. And instead of ignoring the problem to start treating the problem."

The bill would require the Department of Children and Family Services to screen individuals for illegal drug use when they apply for unemployment or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, or TANF, benefits. For anyone who tests positive for drugs, the state would provide mandatory drug treatment and job skills training funded by TANF or Medicaid.

Providing that drug treatment would cost between $2,200 and $6,300 per person, according to estimates provided during Senate debate on the bill in February. The legislation also requires that elected officials and some state employees undergo drug testing if there were a reasonable suspicion about their behavior.

Senate Vice President Jeff King, the bill's primary sponsor, said Tuesday that the measure strikes a balance between being good stewards with public resources while trying to help people suffering from substance abuse kick their habits and lead productive lives. He said approximately 8 percent of those seeking TANF funds are identified by screening as potentially using drugs.

"This bill makes sure that we have drug treatment provided for anyone who is using public assistance who is identified with a substance abuse problem," said King, an Independence Republican. "This bill is not only family friendly but family focused. We make sure that the children that need this assistance the most will get it."

The TANF program provided about $42 million in benefits for about 32,000 Kansas adults and children during fiscal 2012, which ended in June.  King said no TANF assistance to children would be suspended under the bill, which provides for other family members or third parties to receive the funds if the applicant fails a drug test.

The bill also covers residents who fail a pre-employment drug screening from being eligible for unemployment benefits. Applicants must submit to drug screening and if they test positive they would have to complete a treatment program and job skills training. Failure to complete treatment or jobs training would disqualify applicants from receiving unemployment benefits.

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Text and legislative votes on drug testing bill: http://bit.ly/XbB9J4

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