WHEELING - Convicted felons and drug offenders in West Virginia would have to pass a drug test before obtaining federal or state assistance under a bill introduced in the Legislature on Thursday.
Under House Bill 4433, applicants who fail the test would be ineligible to reapply for two years - reduced to six months upon completion of a substance abuse treatment program and passage of a second drug test. Children of those who fail the required drug tests would not lose their benefits, but could have another family member or approved person who is able to pass the test designated to receive benefits on their behalf.
The bill is not as far reaching as others proposed during the session's opening days that remain in committee. Another House bill provides for mandatory drug testing of all welfare applicants, while legislation introduced in the Senate would go even further, extending the requirement to those receiving unemployment benefits and even members of the Legislature themselves.
Eleven delegates - all Republicans, none of whom represents the Northern Panhandle - are co-sponsoring the bill.
Delegate Ryan Ferns said he hasn't yet read the legislation, but the concept of drug testing welfare recipients is something with which he agrees.
"Nearly all job providers drug test their workers, so this shouldn't be an unreasonable requirement ... and in fact will help prepare folks for the requirements for entering the work force," Ferns, R-Ohio, said. "This concept is something that in general I support, but I will have to see more of the details as this piece of legislation moves through the process."
Delegate David Evans, R-Marshall, said he's spoken with a number of people who know someone who has used public assistance to buy illegal drugs. While the state would have to carefully consider the cost of such a program, Evans pointed out that catching those who abuse the system could actually end up saving taxpayers in the long run.
"I think everybody wants to provide benefits for those who are deserving and who are using the money lawfully," he said.
The drug abuse epidemic is something West Virginia must be under control if its residents are to have opportunities to prosper, according to Evans. He said Odebrecht, the Brazilian petrochemical company that plans to build an ethane cracker near Parkersburg, eventually will be looking for about 3,000 construction workers and another 200-300 permanent employees.
"They're going to want drug-free workers. ... This is a big thing, and it's one of the things we really need to work on," Evans said.