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Va. welfare recipients may soon have to take drug tests

Tuesday - 2/21/2012, 1:19pm  ET

Hank Silverberg, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Virginians who apply for welfare in the future could have to take a drug test.

Legislation to require drug testing for some welfare applicants faces once last hurdle though, concern over the price tag. The House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee approved the bill 14-6, which has already passed in the state Senate.

The bill would require drug screening for all recipients, followed by drug testing for anyone suspected of illegal drug use.

Bill sponsor Sen. Steve Martin, R-Colonial Heights says applicants would be screened for drugs first before they were actually tested and if there was reason to believe they had used drugs then they would be tested.

"It doesn't cause you to go directly to drug testing. It just gives you another level of inquiry and assessment that may lead to drug testing," he says.

Anyone who then tests positive for drugs would be denied benefits for a year.

Opponents say the bill incorrectly assumes that welfare recipients use drugs more than the general population. Martin told the committee that he makes no such assumption.

Martin fielded a series of pointed questions from Del. Joseph Morrissey, D-Henrico, during Tuesday's committee meeting. Morrissey asked about the cost of testing and about the constitutionality of the bill in light of a federal judge's ruling striking down a similar drug testing program in Florida.

The legislation (SB 6) still faces a vote in the House which is rejecting almost everything that increases spending.The screening and tests could cost more than $600,000 a year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Follow Hank and WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)