Napier makes changes to bill to allow drug testing for Kentuckians on public assistance

01/18/2012 10:30 PM

Rep. Lonnie Napier, R-Lancaster, revamped his bill to permit drug testing for people who rely on government assistance programs, such as food stamps or health coverage through Medicaid.

Last year’s version of the bill would have required a drug test for everyone enrolled in that program. But Napier changed the wording this year so that a caseworker would have to show probable cause in order to refer a recipient to testing.

The person would then have 60 days to comply. But as Napier said in an interview Wednesday, the benefits would continue during that time.

Another issue some lawmakers had with the 2011 version of the bill was that it could leave children vulnerable if their parent or guardian suddenly got cut off from food stamps for testing positive for substance abuse.

Under the current version — House Bill 26 — kids would be placed with a temporary guardian and government benefits tagged for the kids would go with them.

Other states are considering it. And Florida already tried implementing, although the American Civil Liberties Union has challenged the constitutionality of requiring anyone who receives benefits to submit to a drug test. A judge has issued an injunction while the case goes through the system.

Napier said he’s received heavy interest in the changes from lawmakers in and outside of Kentucky.

Forty-seven other Kentucky legislators have signed on as co-sponsors of this year’s version. Nearly half of them — 23 — are Democrats, including current House Speaker Greg Stumbo and his predecessor as speaker, Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green.

That’s not quite as many co-sponsors as the 55 Napier lined up last year.

But Richards said with some of the changes Napier has made, he’s hopeful it can pass.

Not everyone has been convinced that drug testing is the right approach.

Rep. Susan Westrom, D-Lexington, is a former social worker. And she staunchly opposed Napier’s bill last year, calling it “punishing” and “toxic.”

She said she is aware he has made changes but hasn’t studied the new version enough to know whether she could support it.


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