- Associated Press - Thursday, March 20, 2014

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan senators took another step toward requiring drug tests for certain welfare recipients Thursday, passing a Republican bill that Democrats oppose.

The House bill that passed the Senate 25-11 Thursday would establish a suspicion-based drug-testing pilot program for recipients of state cash assistance through the Family Independence Program. The legislation appropriates $500,000 in fiscal 2014 for the yearlong pilot program in at least three counties.

The bill is tied to a Senate bill still under consideration in the House. The legislation would require the Department of Human Services to screen FIP applicants and recipients for suspicion of substance abuse. Individuals whose screening results raised suspicions would have to take a drug test.

If a recipient’s first test showed drug use in violation of state law, DHS would refer the person to a treatment program. Anyone who failed the test a second time or who refused to take the test would be disqualified for assistance. A recipient’s children would remain eligible for assistance.

“When it comes to drug testing, individuals using taxpayer money for assistance need to be held accountable for abusing it - period,” bill sponsor Sen. Joe Hune, R-Whitmore Lake, said in a statement.

Negotiations Wednesday and Thursday between DHS and lawmakers resulted in a change to the House bill clarifying that state-authorized medical marijuana use could not disqualify a recipient. DHS supports the latest version of the bill, spokesman Dave Akerly said.

Opponents of the legislation, including the Michigan League for Public Policy, say similar programs in other states haven’t saved taxpayers money. The nonpartisan Senate Fiscal Agency estimates a statewide program would cost roughly $700,000 to $3.4 million while potentially saving $370,000 to $3.7 million in caseload reductions.

The American Civil Liberties Union has said the program would promote ugly stereotypes of poor people, discriminating against a group that doesn’t use drugs at a rate significantly higher than the general population.

“We give out tax credits to schools, we give out tax credits to students, we give out tax credits to police and fire (departments),” Sen. Vincent Gregory, D-Southfield, said on the Senate floor. “And yet the only (group) that we are now saying is subject to drug screening are the poor - the poorest of the poor.”

Michigan shouldn’t “single them out” and make them prove they’re “worthy,” he said.

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