- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 6, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Wisconsin lawmakers advanced a set of bills Wednesday that would require food stamp users to buy healthy food and mandate drug screening for state job training program applicants and some unemployment benefit claimants.

An Assembly committee on public benefit reform approved the bills almost on party lines Wednesday, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats against. Rep. Adam Neylon, a Pewaukee Republican, also voted against the measures.

The approval clears the way for the full Assembly to vote on the measures next week. But prospects for the bill that would restrict food options for food stamp users remain murky in the Senate, which didn’t take up a similar proposal last session.

The Republican bill would require food stamp recipients to use at least two-thirds of their monthly benefits to purchase nutritional foods such as beef, chicken and fresh produce. Users would be barred from buying crab, lobster, shrimp and other shellfish.

“We certainly want to make sure our poor people are reaching for the right food mix,” Rep. Janel Brandtjen, a Menomonee Republican said at the hearing Wednesday. “Let’s create incentives to look a little harder in the grocery store to look not just for what’s easy, but for what’s nutritional.”

The federal government funds food stamp benefits. If approved, legislators would need a waiver to impose limitations. No state has received such a waiver.

Rep. Lisa Subeck, a Madison Democrat, said at the hearing the measure overstepped the state government’s boundaries.

“We are going to spend millions of dollars to jump into people’s grocery carts with them to tell them what they can and can’t buy,” Subeck said. “This isn’t real.”

The committee also approved two bills that would require drug tests for applicants for state job training programs such as Wisconsin Works and certain applicants for unemployment benefits. Some applicants would be asked to complete a questionnaire screening for drug abuse. Based on the answers, applicants could be forced to undergo tests and enter state-sponsored treatment to retain their eligibility.

Rep. Michael Schraa, an Oshkosh Republican, said he’d heard concerns in his district about employers not being able to hire applicants as many tested positive for drugs.

“We have a heroin epidemic in the state and it’s affecting productivity,” Schraa said.

He said the bill posed a good solution.

Minority Democrats on the committee prepared two dozen amendments on the bills. None were approved.

Among the amendments brought by Rep. Andy Jorgensen, a Milton Democrat, were some that would require legislators and the governor to take mandatory drug tests.

“I think if we want the people of Wisconsin to pee in a cup, we should too. We should pee first,” Jorgensen said.

Committee chairman Rep. Mark Born, a Beaver Dam Republican, refused to hear discussion on the amendments and said they were irrelevant to the bill.

The bills now move to the Assembly, where they will likely be voted on next week.


Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bydanaferguson .

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