Alabama lawmakers approve welfare drug testing

Medicine and health

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) – The Alabama Legislature has approved a bill to drug test welfare applicants who have had a drug conviction within the last five years.

The House of Representatives voted 73-27 for the bill Thursday. It now goes to Gov. Robert Bentley for his signature.

People could keep their benefits after one positive drug test. After a second positive, the person would be ineligible for one year. The recipient would be permanently ineligible after a third positive drug test.

“I don’t think it’s right for taxpayers to have to fund somebody’s drug habit,” said Rep. Kerry Rich, R-Albertville.

Opposed lawmakers predicted the tests would cost the state money but accomplish little. Alabama is one of about 10 states that already ban people with felony drug convictions from collecting benefits under Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, said Carol Gundlach, a policy analyst with Alabama Arise, an advocacy group for low-income families.

Rep. Chris England, D-Tuscaloosa, said the bill would only impact people arrested for marijuana possession, which can be a misdemeanor.

Gundlach said she thought that the bill would apply to few people.

A federal judge struck down a Florida law that required all welfare applicants to undergo mandatory drug testing. Rich said he believed the Alabama legislation would stand because a past drug conviction would equate to “reasonable suspicion.”

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