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Proposal to drug test welfare recipients dies

March 31, 2009|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Del. Craig Blair's bill to randomly drug test West Virginians who receive public assistance died Tuesday, but it has attracted national attention and interest from other state legislatures.

And Blair, R-Berkeley, expects the legislation will be back next year.

On a 70-30 vote Tuesday, the House rejected a motion by Blair to have House Bill 3007 discharged from the House Judiciary Committee, the Berkeley County Republican lawmaker confirmed. Judiciary Committee chairwoman Carrie Webster, who has questioned the bill's constitutionality and cost, did not allow the measure to be put on the agenda for consideration.

Del. Tom Louisos, D-Fayette, was the only Democrat to join House Republicans in support of discharging the bill, according to a roll call vote posted by the state legislature's Office of Reference & Information.

Blair said in a phone interview Tuesday that he plans to introduce a "study" resolution today, which, if adopted by the legislature, would compel a review of the proposal by state officials.

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"They'll support it," Blair said of Democrats who voted against the motion, "because they're taking a beating on this."

Blair proposed randomly testing people receiving state and federal assistance through unemployment, food stamps or welfare programs.

Though HB 3007 is dead, Blair said he would attempt to amend the language into other legislation still pending.

Blair has argued that the benefits programs are voluntary and the cost of the program would be outweighed by the savings realized from helping keep children safe from exposure to drug use.

"We've got to do something to stem the drug abuse crisis in this state," Blair said.

Since announcing his proposal, Blair said he has received about 5,000 e-mails, most overwhelmingly in favor of the legislation. The legislation has attracted national attention and Blair has discussed the merits of the proposal on Fox News and the nationally syndicated Alan Colmes radio show.

Blair said 80 percent of his constituents in the 52nd district, which includes a portion of Morgan County, have been in favor of the bill and he noted legislatures in several other states are considering similar legislation.

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